Tuesday, July 31, 2007

'Difficulties' with church's abuse guidelines noted

A Government-commissioned review of the Catholic Church's Our Children, Our Church child protection guidelines, published in December 2005, has identified "some difficulties" with it.

These included "a certain lack of integration between Our Children, Our Church and the guidelines produced by different State organisations."

It also said "the area dealing with abuse by persons outside the church requires some further development to bring it more in line with State guidelines".

The review was prepared by Dr Helen Buckley of TCD's social studies department, who was also a member of the Ferns inquiry team.

She was appointed to review Our Children, Our Church by the then minister of State for children Brian Lenihan in March last year when it emerged the guidelines were not being implemented in Northern Ireland after it was established that it did not comply with child protection legislation there.

In her review Dr Buckley welcomed Our Children, Our Church as "a comprehensive statement of the commitment of the Catholic Church to deal decisively with the problem of child abuse by staff or volunteers working for it".

She said "the proposed structure for the management of child protection within the church will be . . . crucial to ensure a unified and consistent approach from different church based organisations and dioceses".

She also said that "the suggested code of good practice should ensure that many previously identified abusive behaviours will be pre-empted or quickly addressed, and other mechanisms for demonstrating transparency accountability under the management of the national structure will facilitate a restoration of trust in the Catholic Church".

However, addressing the "difficulties" she had uncovered in Our Children Our Church, she identified these as "its current presentation, which is difficult to navigate for the members of the Church who are most likely to need clear guidance on child protection procedures".

She found that "the wording which is used to describe the reporting progress is misleading and has elicited public criticism".

She said "a certain lack of integration between Our Children, Our Church and the guidelines produced by different State organisations is observable whereby the document could be seen as 'stand alone' rather than derivative of existing guidelines".

She noted that "the area dealing with abuse by persons outside the church requires some further development to bring it more in line with State guidelines . . . While the proposed structure is considered a major strength of the document, it will be equally important to provide a well-supported base in local parishes and organisations".

Ian Elliott, newly appointed chief executive of the Catholic Church's National Board for Child Protection, confirmed last night it had received Dr Buckley's review and was "considering it".

He said that, as with all such documents, Our Children, Our Church was subject to review and necessary changes would be incorporated in it.

Meanwhile, files concerning "a number" of Catholic priests are currently with Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service following completion of PSNI investigations of child sex abuse allegations made against them.

A spokesman for the PSNI said the investigations followed on information supplied by Catholic Church authorities and related to "historic cases". He added that the Catholic Church had "co-operated fully in supplying all the relevant information required".

A spokesman for the Church's Northern Bishops said that in the 40-year period between 1965 and 2005, 47 priests of the approximate 2,000 who have served in Northern Ireland's Catholic dioceses, had child sex abuse allegations made against them.

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