Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Finally, a minister who is a match for the Church (Contribution)

Has the Catholic Church finally met its match in a junior minister -- Barry Andrews?

Let's hope so. Certainly, the behaviour of the Church's National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) needs a strong political response.

That political response should be a national audit of child protection in every Irish diocese.

The fact is, we simply don't know how much has been learned by the Catholic hierarchy from the child abuse scandals of the 1980s and 1990s. Most dioceses are implementing sound child protection measures -- but are all?

The failure of the Diocese of Cloyne to adequately deal with child abuse complaints brought a Christmas Eve apology from Bishop John Magee who, however, has refused to resign.

That failure by the diocese was outlined in a report by the NBSC. However, the publication of the report was preceded by a lengthy tussle between the NBSC and the Minister for Children.

Andrews' office had spent months telling the NBSC that it should be talking directly to the HSE on child protection issues. The NBSC maintained that Andrews had commissioned it to investigate child protection issues in Cloyne. Andrews insisted he had done no such thing and that this was the function of the HSE.


I believe Andrews' interpretation of what went on is right and that he told the Church body to go talk to the HSE which is the body responsible for child protection. Why would a Government minister ask an agency of the Catholic Church to conduct an investigation for him?

The NBSC went ahead and did its own report but it told Andrews that, on legal advice, it would not be providing a copy to the HSE. But it would have "no difficulty" with Barry Andrews giving them a copy.

In fact, the NBSC said in a letter, it was "not clear why you have not done so".

Can you beat that for brass neck?

It is a wonder Hawkins House didn't implode from the intake of breath that one must have caused in Andrews' office.

Andrews has taken some flak for not reading the report which the NBSC gave to him despite his requests that it go directly to the HSE. Instead of reading it, Andrews passed it on to the HSE himself.

At first glance that seems almost perverse behaviour in a Minister for Children. But look at it again: Andrews' refusal to read the Church report was consistent with the argument he had been making all along: that there is only one report that counts and that is the one being done by the State's child protection agency, the HSE.

Looked at from that point of view, Andrews did the right thing and showed himself to be more than a match for the Church. Andrews will be asking the Government in early January to publish the HSE report.

What next? Next, I hope, is a national audit of child protection practices in every Catholic diocese. This need not take forever. There is already in existence a body which could do the job, namely Judge Yvonne Murphy's commission of investigation into clerical child abuse in Dublin.


Reports suggest her work in Dublin is almost done. I believe there would be a broad welcome from the public and from many clergy to an expansion of her task to other dioceses.

Could it happen? I believe it could. Trust in the Church's handling of these matters has been hurt by the Cloyne controversy. Two popular bishops -- Dr Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin and Dr Willie Walsh, Bishop of Killaloe -- have called on Dr Magee to consider his position. We have a Minister for Children who stands up to the Church in these matters.

The circumstances are right. Let's hope Barry Andrews gets the support he needs from his senior Government colleagues in tackling a problem which has been hurting abuse victims for far too long.

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Sotto Voce

(Source: EH)