The guidelines, published by the church’s child safety watchdog yesterday, are aimed at providing a common approach to child protection across the church’s 1,365 parishes, 26 dioceses and 166 religious congregations on the island.
As well as setting out clear guidelines and standards on how to respond quickly to suspicions of abuse, church organisations will be obliged to audit themselves to ensure they are in compliance with new rules.
It also says priests dealing with child protection matters should be banned from hearing the confession of an accused priest because of “the obligations of the sacramental seal”.
In addition, the church’s child safety watchdog – the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church – will itself conduct audits on each church organisation at least once every five years.
The new guidelines incorporate the two statutory documents on how to respond to child protection issues, Children First in the Republic and Co-operating to Safeguard Children in Northern Ireland.
The board said it found that in recent years, most dioceses and religious orders had produced and implemented their own policies and procedures, largely in isolation from each other.
This resulted, it said, in a multiplicity of guidance which contained different interpretations of what represented best practice.
Guidelines published yesterday will help address the lack of clarity and common approach to safeguarding youngsters, the board said.
The new document will become the first and only necessary point of reference for all those with responsibility for implementing the church’s safeguarding policies.
Ian Elliott, the board’s chief executive officer, said the blueprint would help introduce a uniform approach to child protection across all church organisations.
“We must always have a consistent and up-to-date standard of best practice. This new document will eliminate any doubt, for example, regarding the need to contact the relevant statutory agencies as soon as a credible suspicion arises.”
In a joint foreword to the document, the Irish Bishops’ Conference, the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union – the three main representative bodies of the Catholic Church – welcomed the new guideline document. “We wholeheartedly endorse this document and ask all those with responsibility for safeguarding children throughout the church in Ireland to apply the standards and guidance contained in it at the earliest opportunity,” they said.
“In practice, this document now becomes an essential point of reference for all those concerned with safeguarding children within the church in Ireland. It becomes the standard and policy against which all previous and existing child safeguarding policies and procedures, in both jurisdictions, shall be compared and where necessary brought up-to-date.”
The guidelines include seven standards which clergy must meet to safeguard youngsters in their care.
They include:* A written policy on keeping children safe
* Clear procedures on how to respond to allegations and suspicions;
* Preventing harm through safe recruitment and vetting, as well as codes of behaviour and safe activities for children;
* Training and education;Communicating the church’s safeguarding message to children, parents and other organisations;
* Access to advice and support;
* Implementing and monitoring standards.
The board, meanwhile, said that where aspects of the new guidelines have not yet been developed in this document, these will presented in the form of supplementary material.
Safeguarding Children is available for download at www.safeguarding.ie
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