Thoughts on the Raphoe Report
Today five Irish dioceses (Raphoe, Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Kilmore, Dromore and Derry) and one Archdiocese (Tuam) published the reports on child protection practices undertaken by the independent National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC).
The NBSCCC was asked by the Irish Episcopal Conference, the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union to undertake a comprehensive investigation into the handling of abuse allegations throughout all dioceses and Church authorities on the island of Ireland. When considering the handling of abuse allegations, it is important to remember that the Church in Ireland does not exist as one unitary and uniform entity, but rather as a complex weave of 188 separate Church authorities, 26 of which are dioceses, while the remainder are religious orders, congregations, pontifical prelatures, etc.
So far I have only had time to read the report into Raphoe and the summary report of all the investigations. I had been most anxious about the Raphoe Report because of the intense media attention on that diocese since the conviction of the notorious Fr Eugene Green in 1999, who was responsible for almost half of allegations dealt with in the time period. The diocese came under scrutiny when a father of one of the boys claimed at the court case in 2008 that he had written to a local parish priest in the late ‘70s notifying him of the abuse. Speaking on Highland Radio this morning Bishop Boyce claimed that “this was the first time we had heard of the letter and we could find no trace of it” and that he “went through all the files and found no allegations against Fr Eugene Greene. I spoke to my predecessor, Bishop Hegarty and he assured me that the same thing was true in his case.”
In a front-page story a few months ago, the Irish Independent gave a shocking preview of what the Raphoe Report would contain. Bishop Boyce subsequently condemned it as ‘sensationalist’ and ‘misleading’. Having now read the contents of the Report, I believe that Bishop Boyce’s criticism was, if anything, a massive understatement.
The NBSCCC investigates the period 1st January 1975 to 1st August 2010, which covers the tenure of Bishops Anthony McFeely, Séamus Hegarty and Philip Boyce. During this time period, allegations were made against 14 priests incardinated in the diocese of Raphoe, only 4 of which have actually been convicted of having committed an “offence against a child or young person since the 1st January, 1975.” Bishop Boyce believes that his diocese ‘probably’ has the highest proportion of priests accused of abuse in any Irish diocese. The Report praises Bishop Boyce for his full co-operation with the National Board, giving them access to diocesan files and for demonstrating “commitment to best practice in inviting the reviewers to examine safeguarding practice.”
The Report states that it is clear ‘significant errors’ were made in dealing with allegations of abuse in the diocese during the earlier years of the Report’s remit, with excessive emphasis on the situation of the accused priest and insufficient emphasis on the needs of the complainants. It also states that judgements in assessing the allegations of abuse were often clouded due to the presenting problem being quite different, for instance, alcohol abuse. The National Board accepts that Bishop Boyce is committed to appreciating the needs of victims and goes on to “commend Bishop Boyce on his willingness to learn the painful lessons of the past and to apply them to the current practice in the diocese.”
The Report takes the seven standards set down in Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance (which were adopted by all Church authorities in the island of Ireland) and measures them against practice in the Diocese of Raphoe. The Report makes 33 recommendations as to how the handling of allegations could be improved, all of them, it must be said, of a fairly bureaucratic nature and quite minor in scope.
Overall the Report’s conclusions are broadly positive. However the Report does find that “in the past guidelines have not been universally implemented and awareness of reporting requirements by some clergy was lacking. Historically, on occasions, there were delays in reporting concerns to the appropriate authorities.” In order for the guidelines to operate effectively, the Report states that all diocesan staff must be aware of the obligation to report. The National Board is “satisfied that all allegations have now been reported to the civil authorities for their investigations and that current practice reflects prompt notification on the part of the diocese.” The National Board notes that the Bishop’s judgement as to the credibility of an allegation has been an influence and in some cases the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has not been notified of a case until such times as a prosecution is made or laicisation is being sought. Contrasting the Bishop’s practice with the Vatican’s stricter requirements, the National Board “recommend[s] that the guidance issued by the CDF in 2001 should be adhered to fully in relation to notifying them of all allegations of clerical child abuse which hold ‘a semblance of truth’.”
In a statement to Highland Radio this morning, Bishop Boyce accepted all the findings of the Report, humbly and sincerely apologized to the victims, reiterated his commitment to ensuring best practice and meeting the needs of victims, and dedicated himself to implementing all the Report’s recommendations, noting that many of them have already been implemented. He was also “glad to say that this Review has concluded that the Diocese now has a robust safeguarding policy and procedure in place for safeguarding children, that files are kept in a satisfactory and orderly fashion, that there is a prompt referral system to the state authorities and good co-operation with the Garda Síochána and the Health Service Executive (HSE).”
I have not had time to read the other reports, but I read this one first because it was widely expected to be, by far, the worst of them. I will read the others when I get time, but so far the media reports seem very positive, with dioceses being praised for their procedures. For example, Kilmore’s conduct is of “a consistently high standard” and all allegations were reported to the civil authorities. In Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, the National Board finds that (as with Kimore) just one priest has been convicted of an offence over the last 35 years and Bishop O’Reilly is strongly praised. In Dromore and Derry no priests have been convicted of an offence in the time period. In the Archdiocese of Tuam, 2 priests have been convicted, but the Report finds that Archbishop Neary kept excellent and thorough records and praises him for having met allegations “with a steadily serious approach, taking appropriate action under existing guidelines, and rapidly assimilating the lesson of the necessity for the removal of the priest, where there is a credible allegation, pending investigation.” But “it is also a fair reflection to say that the archbishop has met resistance in asking a priest to step aside from public ministry. It is to his credit that in spite of opposition, Archbishop Neary has maintained his authority and kept some men out of ministry where there is evidence to suggest that they should be viewed as dangerous and should not have access to young people. The fieldwork team has been impressed by the archbishop’s quiet resolve to do what is right, and by his industrious and diligent case management team.”
Update: RTÉ reports that Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe is saying that no child sexual abuse in the diocese was reported to the Bishop’s office prior to 1995. So why did Bishop Séamus Hegarty apologize?