The Head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Brady stated on 2 January 2009 that the mandate of the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) had his full support and that the Board intended to obtain the support of his fellow bishops’, in writing, to implement policy agreed by the Bishops’ Conference. He also stated, unequivocally, that the welfare of children is a Gospel value. He recognised that verifiable and accountable structures, based on best practice, are critically important to safeguarding children and sustaining public confidence in the Church.
The most important initiative of the NBSC in 2009 was to undertake an audit of child safeguarding practices in all dioceses. That was to have been completed by the end of 2009 and the benefit of risk mitigation that would be reasonably expected to ensue from this should have been well rooted by early 2010.
But it took all of 2009 for the bishops’ to merely agree the objectives of these reviews and by April 2010 two dioceses, Clonfert and Ossory, did not even have a single parish safeguarding representative in place in the 66 parishes administered by these dioceses.
The 2011 annual report of the NBSC contains the appalling disclosure that the conduct of the review of dioceses has been systematically thwarted by what are described as ‘unresolved (and unspecified) data protection issues’ which fundamentally stymies the mandate of this Board – notwithstanding that the NBSC has comprehensive data protection procedures which comply with all statutory obligations . The bishops’ response is therefore self-serving, egregious, outrageous and indefensible.
The Statement issued on 11 May by the Bishops’ Conference reduces the audit review, that was set in the context of a Gospel value in January 2009, to being a generic and inchoate ‘important area of challenge that has yet to be completely resolved’. The 2011 Annual Report indicates that any information gleaned in the audit will only be disclosed to the public with the consent of the head of the relevant authority. The authoritarian muzzle to be applied to this process after a protracted delay to date will now supplement the reporting deficits of 2010 whereby the number of sexual abuse episodes disclosed far exceeded those previously communicated to the NBSC by a factor of 300%. The Chief Executive of the Board described the impact of inaccurate reporting as ‘problematic’. It actually corrupts the basic integrity of a monitoring process.
The behaviour of the bishops continues to be lamentably typical of the leadership that has reduced the Catholic Church in Ireland to a toxic cocktail based on a blend of double entendre and mental reservations. The impact of the NBSC, which has earned public trust and estimable esteem, is being reduced to that of a posse of passive plane-spotters, who monitor international best practice elsewhere, but are faced with impossible inertia and cultural impediments in introducing best practice into Ireland - based on adequate reference points and candour. Change never occurs in a leadership vacuum but decay and curmudgeonly connivance thrives in such circumstances.
The ‘full support’ of a credible leader means that the leader can be relied on to deliver an outcome within an agreed timeframe, particularly with respect to a primary objective, especially when the scale of reported sexual abuse continues to be as alarmingly high as it is.
Brady has failed to ensure that these reviews are promptly facilitated with the same blind, thoughtless, stubborn intransigence that you chose not to report the Brendan Smyth saga to the civil authorities for 19 years until it was independently exposed by a television journalist.
The Chairman of the NBSC has drawn attention to inherent weaknesses in area such as institutional management and governance. You and your pathetic colleagues have chosen to recruit a partisan lawyer rather than ensure that this Board swiftly obtains the statistics and other pertinent data to safeguard the children of Ireland. It is not good enough to publish claptrap about ‘continuing to work with the Board’ when it is abundantly clear that you will use concocted legal excuses to avoid doing so.
Thus impasse ought to be a resigning issue not just for Brady – but for each bishop whose talents, energy, outlook and disposition are incapable of leading change or inspiring public confidence.
The investigation of allegations in the Diocese of Cloyne commenced with a review of two cases in 2008 but the Report of the Commission of Investigation subsequently examined allegations against 19 priests in that relatively small diocese of 46 parishes. None of these are likely to have emerged into the public domain if such a blanket embargo existed.
Public confidence in the proposed audit of safeguarding practices by the Board will not be enhanced if the findings are to be muzzled by the Church authorities. Tardiness with respect to critical communications neither serve the interests of children, the Church or the Catholic community as a whole.