Reports shows that Galway diocese responded quickly to abuse allegations over four decades

Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan should ensure written restrictions are in place ensuring priests who are “out of ministry” due to child abuse allegations do not appear in public dressed in priestly attire, a report into safeguarding practices for children in the Galway diocese recommends.

The 28-page document, which was published yesterday (Wednesday ) examines case records dating back to 1975.

It reveals allegations were made against 14 diocesan priests in the period 1975 to 2013. A total of 38 allegations were received, 27 of which were reported to the Gardai and the HSE. Allegations were made against three priests who are in ministry, two who are retired and five who are deceased. Two others have left the priesthood while a further two men are still members of the diocese but are “out of ministry”. One priest in the diocese was convicted of child abuse in the 38-year-period.

The review outlines that a lack of formal written restrictions led to an accused priest in at least two cases thwarting the rules and appearing at funerals and other public events in full priest’s clothing and assisting with the liturgy.

“Where this has happened and has been brought to the attention of Bishop Drennan he has taken quick action and reaffirmed with the accused his status as a priest ‘out of ministry’,” the report indicates. “In order to avoid the likelihood of this happening again Bishop Drennan should revisit all cases of priests out of ministry and ensure that written precepts are in place.”

The publication says Bishop Drennan has highlighted his concern that all men out of ministry should be monitored to ensure there is no current risk to children. “The safeguarding co-ordinator takes responsibility for this task and shared with the reviewers, his direct and indirect contact with priests who are not in good standing. This is clearly a good initiative by the diocese, however there is a lack of written records to evidence this important work.”

The report states that reviewers examined the case management records of 19 priests. This included 12 diocesan priests, nine of whom are alive, four from religious orders and three priests from other dioceses but who had a connection with Galway.

It says historically there have been delays in notifying the Gardai and the HSE in cases during the 1990s and early 2000. However, more recently there is prompt reporting of all cases. The study outlines that it appears from the records that in all cases prompt action was taken to remove men from ministry where credible allegations were made.

“The exception to this appears in two cases, one which was brought to the attention of Bishop Casey, which does not appear to have been afforded the attention it required during the early 1980s. Bishop McLoughlin was informed of the concerns against this now deceased priest and removed him from ministry in 1995. There was one other case which was brought to the attention of Bishop McLoughlin where it appears from the records that the complainant did not receive an appropriate response. The accused priest was already out of ministry when the complaint was received and was deceased when a subsequent complaint was made.

The report says on the whole cases are responded to well in Galway diocese which consists of 39 parishes serving communities living in parts of counties Galway, Clare and Mayo. There are 63 priests in ministry in the diocese - 48 diocesan priests and 15 religious order ones.

“There is currently prompt notification to the civil authorities, removal from ministry has been decisive and management and monitoring of risk is good. Further work to improve this practice needs to take place in relation to adhering to canon law and ensuring that priests out of ministry are not left in limbo.”

In a letter to the people of the diocese to be read this weekend, Bishop Martin Drennan said once in a while the church is accused of “keeping our good news to ourselves” when it should be shared.

He described the report of the audit of safeguarding practice in the diocese as a “genuine good news story” which the church had been waiting 20 years to hear.

During those years it has had to cope with reports dealing with various forms of abuse - the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports, he said.

“At times we wondered if the Church would ever get her response right to the crisis that abuse caused. In more recent times there were signs that we had turned a corner, that we are taking seriously the pain which victims express and we have learned lessons from the past. The review of safeguarding practice in this diocese that led to the report shows that we have at last turned the corner. It offers encouragement in many forms.

“Safeguarding practice is reported as good in the diocese. Complaints are dealt with promptly. There is ongoing help available for victims of abuse. Counselling is offered to complainants and their families. The diocese works closely with the HSE and with the Garda Siochana in its efforts to make sure that children participating in church related activities are safe. To date 355 people have been given training so that their work as safeguarding representatives may be as effective as possible.”

He outlined that priests were praised in the report for their leadership. Volunteers in parishes were also singled out for special mention. Bishop Drennan said the credibility of the church will rise or fall depending on how it responds to the abuse crisis.

“We are moving in the right direction. That gives us confidence to continue with our efforts and spurs us to work together with the trust that was often sorely tested over the last couple of decades.”

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