24 Jan 2009

Senior Irish clergy fail to agree at emergency abuse summit

The Independent - Ireland
January 24, 2009

by John Cooney | Independent Religion Correspondent

An emergency summit of Catholic bishops ended in confusion last night after Archbishop Diarmuid Martin held out for definite commitments from other bishops and religious superiors that they apply the same high standards of child protection that operate in Dublin.

In a joint statement issued several hours after Archbishop Martin left the Maynooth meeting, bishops invited their own independent National Board to undertake a new review of current practice and risk in the safeguarding of children in all 26 dioceses.

But in a dissenting note, Archbishop Martin, said that while he was in favour of the review initiative, he would only be able to accept this "if it contained specific protocols to verify that the superiors of priests other than those of the Archdiocese of Dublin working in Dublin subscribe to and sustain the same norms and guidelines as those of the Archdiocese".

Speaking to the Irish Independent Archbishop Martin said that his primary concern was to secure the highest levels of protection for all children.

Earlier, on arriving, Archbishop Martin said: "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

In their statement the Bishops also issued a reprimand to beleaguered Bishop John Magee by acknowledging that victims raped by priests who had come forward, and those who are unable to do so, "have once again had their wounds of abuse opened by Church failure".

Last night a senior bishop told the Irish Independent that frank criticisms were directed at Bishop Magee's failure to apply agreed procedures, and he suggested that if Bishop Magee absorbed these criticisms, he might yet resign.

In a frantic effort "to restore confidence and credibility in the Irish Church's commitment to safeguarding children", the bishops adopted Cardinal Brady's proposal that "every Bishop, every Religious Congregation and every Missionary Society must implement all statutory guidelines in this area, as well as the agreed policy of the Bishops' Conference, Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union."

The bishops also agreed:

• To renew their commitment to providing all of the information requested in Section 5 of the HSE audit about the exact scale of abuse allegations in their dioceses.

• To sign a written commitment to implement the new safeguarding and guidance materials soon to be published by the Church's own independent national board for safeguarding children, and to co-operate fully with their ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

In spite of these declared commitments, the seven-hour meeting held amid heavy security failed to restore public confidence that Cardinal Brady had secured his objective of a united approach in all 26 dioceses to the highest standards of child monitoring.

Its inconclusive ending also failed to remove question marks over the future of Bishop Magee, even though Cardinal Brady said as he arrived for the meeting that he was sorry if his support for the former papal secretary remaining in office in Cloyne had offended people.


Victims support group One in Four last night welcomed the bishops' commitment to work within statutory guidelines, but its executive director Maeve Lewis said they did not believe that the proposed actions went far enough.

Although Bishop Magee attended the discussions, he evaded the media, which were kept behind a barrier some 50 metres from the Columba Centre, by entering and leaving the building by back or side entrances.

Bishop Magee, who plunged the Irish Catholic Church into crisis for failing to apply agreed national guidelines in his diocese of Cloyne, apologised to victims of clerical sexual abuse, to those working with victims and to the general public for the suffering and frustrations occasioned by the failures detailed in an independent report.

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