Wednesday, June 12, 2024

252 abuse allegations made against members of Catholic Church in Ireland over past year, new report

A total of 252 allegations of abuse were made against 209 members of the Catholic Church in Ireland over the past year, a slight increase on the previous year, according to National Board’s annual report.

The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland’s report (NBSCCI), published on Wednesday, covers the period from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024, and for the first time shows type of abuse alleged and the breakdown between allegations against diocesan personnel (65) and members of religious congregations (187).

While the majority of the 252 allegations relate to sexual abuse (183) in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, four allegations relate to the year 2000 or later. Two relate to sexual abuse that is alleged to have taken place in the 2000s and one is sexual abuse alleged to have taken place in 2023.

A further 26 allegations relate to physical abuse; 17 allegations of emotional abuse; 1 allegation of neglect; 1 allegation of boundary violations; and a further 24 types of abuse were not provided.

Of the 209 church personnel against whom the allegations were made, 153 were members of male religious congregations, 14 were male diocesan clergy and 41 were female religious with one unknown.

In the report, the National Board reveals it has completed an evaluation of the Head to Heart programme, which over the past three years has introduced child safeguarding into the formation of seminarians at the Pontifical Irish College, Rome; St Patrick’s College, Maynooth; and the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Dundalk.

Outgoing CEO of the National Board, Teresa Devlin, in her final Annual Report following ten years at the helm explains that this programme has now been expanded to the Permanent Diaconate, with a view to extending it further.

“I am confident that, in terms of international development, this programme leads the way in embedding the importance of child safeguarding in priestly formation,” Devlin states.

Though she notes that progress has been made during her time with the safeguarding watchdog, Ms Devlin also pointed out that the damage done by abuse is ongoing.

“We cannot afford to think that we have finished our work in this area in Ireland. We clearly have more to do,” she said. “I believe that there are still gaps in our practices with complainants and their families. We must accept the need to ‘transition’ to a more compassionate response.”

Over the past year the number of requests for safeguarding advice also increased from 282 to 306. In addition, a total of 11 safeguarding reviews were completed. All 26 catholic dioceses have now had reviews completed and have also completed an annual Self-Audit, as have 50 Religious Orders/Congregations.

Once again, the National Board highlights in its annual report the challenges it is experiencing due to data protection constraints.

It reveals it is unable to “report publicly with the level of detail that it would like, to demonstrate a transparent, centralised account of allegations received in any one year” due to data protection legislation which prevents the sharing of special-category data with the National Board.

This means that when notifications are received, they are anonymised, and there is no ability to cross-reference to ensure that the respondent is already known, or to check if the allegation may already have been reported to the National Board by another source.

The Data Protection Commissioner’s office has told the NBSCCI that the Law Reform Commission is considering drafting legislative changes to enable the exchange of information in the interests of safeguarding.