Allegations of child sexual abuse were made against 18 priests in the Tuam archdiocese from 1975 to 2011, according to the Review of Safeguarding Practice in the archdiocese, just published. Ten of these priests were deceased when the review was undertaken in June 2011.
Two priests in the archdiocese were convicted of committing an offence or offences against a child or young person since January 1975, the study - which was undertaken by the Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church - reveals.
Some 25 allegations involving priests of the 56-parish archdiocese which comprises almost all of Co Mayo and about 65 per cent of Co Galway, including the Aran Islands, large parts of Connemara and areas such as Corrandulla, Lackagh and Tuam - were reported to the Gardai.
Eight of the priests against whom allegations were made are “out of ministry” or have left the priesthood, according to the 21-page document. All of the priests who were the subject of allegations are no longer in ministry or are retired. Five of the total of 18 priests - who were the subject of an allegation arising from their past ministry - are not from the diocese but live in it.
The publication outlines that all cases were “complex” and “challenging” in terms of establishing the credibility of the allegation. It states that “serious harm” was done to children by a “few” priests of the archdiocese.
“The records demonstrate that since the installation of Archbishop Neary the archbishop has 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.”
It outlines that prior to Archbishop Neary’s tenure there was on occasions “delay” in taking such action.
“It is also fair to say 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.”
Among the eight recommendations in the review is that the archbishop should consider writing to all complainants on receiving a “credible” allegation offering support and counselling. Others suggest that following the removal of a priest from public ministry Archbishop Neary sets down in writing the restrictions imposed on the respondent and the supervision, management and reporting arrangements. The report also suggests that the archbishop might consider appointing a support person whose sole responsibility would be the support of complainants.
In a statement Archbishop Neary said he had apologised to the survivors of child sexual abuse in the past and wished to reiterate his apology.
“Foremost in my thoughts are the survivors of child sexual abuse and their families, the harm and the hurt which they have experienced and the courage which they displayed in telling their story. I invite anyone who has been abused to come forward and report the matter either to the archdiocese and/or to the statutory authorities.”
He stated the report illustrates that “strong procedures” have been put in place to ensure that children are “safe and cherished” in Tuam archdiocese.
“I warmly welcome the report of Ian Elliott, the CEO of the national board, and am very happy that he has adjudicated so positively on the way things are being addressed in our archdiocese. This is an enormous tribute to all working in this area. It is very encouraging to see that their work has been recognised, affirmed and appreciated in the report. They convened and worked long hours to address the problems of sexual abuse in a fair and transparent manner. I want to thank all who were involved in this important work for the way in which they have given so generously of their time and expertise. Each parish now has a trained child safeguarding representative.”
He said as archbishop he addressed these “sad situations”. “I was convinced that it would be impossible to do so without involving lay people, particularly parents and especially mothers who have been nurturing, cherishing and protecting children day in day out. I appointed an advisory panel, men and women, professional and highly qualified lay people, religious and priests from whom I have taken advice in dealing with cases of abuse. Conscious of the urgency and centrality of safeguarding children the safeguarding committee has worked diligently and voluntarily to ensure that the safest possible environment is created for children in the Catholic Church in our archdiocese.
“This is not something, however, about which we can become complacent. The safeguarding and cherishing of children in the Catholic Church must continue to remain a challenge for all of us. Counselling help is available at the dedicated helpline - Towards Healing at Freephone 1800 303416 or log on to www.towardshealing.ie”
Meanwhile the HSE National Counselling Service (NCS) is offering support and assistance to people who have been affected by clerical child abuse.
“The NCS helpdesk can be contacted confidentially on freephone 1800 303 529 from 9am to midnight (today) Thursday and Friday December 2 and from 10am to 6pm on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 and thereafter as required.
“Callers to the helpdesk can speak in confidence to a helpdesk advisor who will listen and assess their needs in a sensitive and non-judgemental manner. Callers will be given clear information and advice to allow them to make informed choices regarding the service best suited to meet their particular requirements.”
The HSE said it recognises that the publication of such reports can prompt adult survivors of childhood abuse to come forward, in some cases for the first time.
“Helpdesk advisors are available to support all those who make contact with the helpdesk, to listen to them and help them to decide on how best to proceed with their disclosures. The NCS is working with a number of agencies nationally to ensure that people who make contact with the helpdesk are facilitated in accessing a service appropriate to their needs, whether that is local counselling services in their area, telephone counselling, advocacy or support services provided by a range of agencies.”
Tom McGrath, the director of counselling with the NCS in the north west, encouraged all those affected by the publication of the reports and clerical abuse in general to contact the helpdesk and find out what is available for victims locally and nationally.
“This information may be important not only for victims but also for other family members who often carry a great burden of hurt and distress.”
* The HSE National Counselling Service helpdesk is available on freephone 1800 303 529.
* The National Rape Crisis 24-hour helpline for victims of rape and sexual abuse is available 24 hours seven days a week on freephone 1800 778 888.