Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Number of victims may never be known

The report states: 'Accused priests were afforded too much tolerance and so found it too easy to avoid being held accountable for their actions.'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. 

The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church yesterday published eight audit reports which highlighted the scale of clerical child sex abuse in recent decades and, in many cases, the lack of action to halt the activities of priests engaged in it.

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 South America.

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 their actions.”

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.

The numbers

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.

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