The Catholic Church’s child safety watchdog has said it may never know the number of victims of clerical sex abuse where priests could have been taken out of circulation earlier to prevent further harm.
In particular, the safeguarding audit of the St Patrick’s Missionary
Society, also known as the Kiltegan Fathers, showed how some priests
abused children in Africa dating back to the mid-1960s.
In some cases, members of the society were assessed and found to be at
“low risk” of reoffending — only to carry on abusing children. One
Kiltegan Father abused at least 50 victims.
Several instances of abuse carried out by another Kiltegan priest were
only uncovered in 2006, while the audit found that it took years to
remove some priests from ministry.
Teresa Devlin, acting chief executive of the National Board for
Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, said it was “a shame” that
the Kiltegan Fathers only became involved with the safeguarding process
18 months before the audit process last January.
“I do not think they understood the reality of the harm of child abuse on children,” she said.
“They probably did not believe the allegations. They were very badly
advised in some of the assessments — some of these reports said they
[priests] were very low risk and they were put back in [to ministry]. We
do not even know the number of victims that are there. A lot of the
victims are in Africa.”
Just one Kiltegan Father had been convicted by the time of the audit in January.
Since the audit, a second former Kiltegan Father has been convicted of
sex abuse, when Fr Peter Kennedy was jailed for 10 years last July for
abusing children in five countries over three decades.
Maeve Lewis of victim support group One in Four said while there had
been “huge improvements”, it was “extraordinary” how far behind other
parts of the Church some congregations such as the Kiltegans were.
“I can think of nothing more odious that the sexual abuse of a child in the developing world,” she said.
Headquartered in Kiltegan, Co Wicklow, the society works in Ireland,
East Africa, West Africa, Central and Southern Africa, the Caribbean and
In one case, concerns over the sexual behaviour of a priest were first
raised in 1966. Minutes of a 1997 meeting show “several reports in Kenya
of homosexual activity between Fr X and young Goan boys”, but
“unfortunately, this local information was never communicated to central
leadership until specific questions were posed in 1997”.
The priest had stepped down in 1986 but remained a member of the order
until 2002. According to the audit report, he may have abused at least
50 people since 1966 and the society has made contact with 34 of them.
According to the report: “Accused priests were afforded too much
tolerance and so found it too easy to avoid being held accountable for
In a statement, society leader Fr Seamus O’Neill apologised unreservedly
to victims, adding: “The members of our society deeply regret this
betrayal of trust.”
Audits on the remaining four Dioceses — Dublin, Cloyne, Meath, and Killaloe — will be published early next year.
St Patrick’s Missionary Society:
- 293 members globally;
- 141 within Ireland, including 40 who are retired/elderly;
- 50 allegations of abuse since Jan 1975;
- 47 of those reported to gardaí/HSE;
- 3 cases overseas;
- 14 priests involved in 50 allegations;
- 1 conviction.