The Bishop of Clonfert this week apologised for the mistakes make at a time when allegations and complaints of child sexual abuse were made against priests in the diocese adding that guidelines and policies have now been put in place to ensure that these mistakes are not repeated.
Speaking yesterday following the publication of a report by The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCCI ) Bishop John Kirby referred to his dealings of allegations made against two priests and admitted that at the time he had been “unaware of the recidivous nature, of the compulsive nature, of sexual abuse”.
“I felt it was a friendship that had gone astray and that was wrong. I now know how bad that was, it was a grave mistake. It was not acceptable. Now my understanding is much greater and much deeper that it was at that time and I apologise profusely for the mistakes that I made at the time”.
The audits were in relation to four dioceses and, for the first time, three religious congregations looking at child protection practices and involved the examination of a total of 330 allegations of abuse against 146 priests and members of those congregations around the country. Clonfert Diocese is one of the smallest of 26 Catholic dioceses in the country with 24 parishes across east Galway, and parts of counties Roscommon and Offaly.
The audit of the Diocese of Clonfert had been carried out in November of last year and found that allegations had been made against three incardinated priests in the diocese between 1975 and June 2011, two of whom were moved to different parishes in the 1990s by Bishop Kirby. Five separate complaints had been made against the first priest - two were subsequently withdrawn - and he served prison sentence and is laicised. Two allegations were made against a second priest who moved to another jurisdiction and has since died. A complaint against a third priest was made in 2010 in relation to an alleged incident which took place more than 40 years ago. The priest has since died and the complaint is currently being dealt with.
In relation to the report, its findings and recommendations, and his own actions, Bishop Kirby said: “At the time I knew very little about abuse, it was not an issue in the church then.
“As time went on we all became a little bit more aware of the insidious nature, of the recidivous nature, of the compulsiveness attached to it and we did learn and in both cases I reported it to the civil authorities.
“I moved the men once and I took them out of ministry.
“I hope I have become more sympathetic to the issues involved and gained a deeper understanding of the grossness and the criminality that is involved in child sexual abuse,” said Bishop Kirby who added that he would never again make the same mistakes. He further explained that he has now joined the NBSCCCI team in Maynooth and any future case would be handled under their advised. Bishop Kirby also confirmed that he is “fully confident that everything is in place” to ensure the protection of children.
According to the report the fieldwork team examined all cases of allegations/complaints/expressions of concern against or about three priests who worked in the Clonfert diocese from 1975 to 2011. Three allegations were made against a fourth priest who was a member of a religious order who provided three weeks of holiday cover in 1981. The fieldwork team was also made aware of three other priests against whom allegations or complaints of child sexual abuse had been made in the past in relation to their postings outside the Clonfert Diocese. Each of these priests were members of religious orders, were not incardinated into the Clonfert Diocese, but lived for a time between 1975 and June 2011 within the diocesan area.
The report goes on to state that after a review of these cases it was acknowledged that Bishop Kirby did not have any national safeguarding guidelines, any training in the management of cases of alleged child sexual abuse, or any diocesan structures that assigned specific case management responsibilities to named post holders. Two priests, against whom allegations were made, had come to Clonfert Diocese from two religious orders, and had been incardinated, despite the fact that in both cases concerns about these men had arisen prior to them transferring.
The two main Clonfert allegations took place in 1990 and 1993/5. The 1990 allegation against priest A was reported in three days to the Western Health Board (WHB ), however it was not reported to the gardai (by the WHB ) until a year later. The 1993 allegation against priest B was not reported at that time. The 1995 allegation, also against priest B, was reported in four days and included the 1993 allegation. Reports were made to the WHB and separately to the gardai. In both cases, Bishop Kirby moved the priests to different parishes.
The report noted that Bishop Kirby had believed that: “by separating the priest and the young person he could remedy the situation. With increase awareness of how abusers work, he now realises how naive this perception was and that this was an inappropriate response and provided no protection for children. Bishop Kirby is fully aware that he should have managed these cases in a much more child-centred way.” 7
The report acknowledged that Bishop Kirby “is now fully clear about his responsibilities in relation to the immediate removal of a priest against whom a credible allegation has been made, as well as the immediate reporting of such an allegation to both the gardai and the HSE”. The recommendations in the report included that Bishop Kirby should “divest himself of the responsibility for dealing with allegations alone by ensuring that all new allegations are referred to the designated persons for them to notify the statutory authorities, respond to complainants, and put in place any risk management plans for respondents”. It also recommended that new cases should all be recorded using the NBSCCCI case file template, that Clonfert Diocese should join the new National Case Management Advisory Group and seek advice from them on all future reports of a concern, complaint, or allegation of child abuse, and that “in all cases Bishop Kirby should write to complainants upon receipt of a credible allegation offering support and counselling