26 June 2023, The Tablet

Rise in abuse allegations in Catholic Church in Ireland

Rise in abuse allegations in Catholic Church in Ireland

Children’s socks at a protest in front of the Irish Mother and Baby Home Commission’s Office in Dublin – file picture.
Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto

There was a significant increase in allegations of abuse reported to the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland last year following the airing of the RTÉ Radio 1 documentary, “Blackrock Boys”, about a Spiritan-run school in Dublin.

The Church’s safeguarding watchdog, which published its report last week, revealed that it was notified of 251 allegations between 2022-23 compared to 178 in 2021-22. Many of these relate to alleged abuse in schools run by religious congregations. 

The allegations were made against 170 respondents of which 35 were diocesan priests, 124 were male religious and 11 were female religious.

The vast majority of allegations, 88, relate to the 1970s, while 56 relate to the 1980s and 36 to the 1960s, nine to the 1990s and two to the 2020s.

According to the board’s chief executive Teresa Devlin, the media coverage of abuse in religious-run schools provided an opportunity, not just for victims of abuse in Blackrock College, but from other schools settings governed by male and female religious across Ireland to report abuse.

While the majority of allegations received, 200, cite sexual abuse as the major abuse and relate to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, four allegations relate to the years since 2000, three of which cite sexual abuse, “demonstrating the need for continued vigilance and robust safeguarding measures”.

A further 37 allegations relate to physical abuse, one boundary violation and thirteen cases of unspecified alleged abuse.

“We have consistently welcomed opportunities that give complainants a voice and a mechanism for sharing what happened to them as children,” Teresa Devlin said of the media coverage of abuse in schools.

Advice was sought from the board on 282 occasions, an increase on last year’s figure of 258.

The second round of board reviews commenced in 2018 but was paused during Covid-19 but recommenced in 2022/23 in dioceses and in a small number of religious. Nineteen safeguarding reviews in dioceses and religious congregations were concluded and a further ten were in process to end of March 2023. All diocesan reviews will be concluded by August 2023.

The board also extended its work to the permanent diaconate and seminarians.

Of the 35 diocesan clergy who allegations of abuse were made against, 15 are deceased, five are in ministry, one is in prison, four laicised, one is operating under a management plan and six are out of ministry. Of the 135 religious against whom allegations of abuse were made, 74 are deceased, three are in prison, six are out of ministry and 32 are unknown. 

Due to the limitations on sharing data, the board highlighted the challenges it currently faces and which have resulted in “an unfortunate lacuna” in the its safeguarding powers and expressed the hope that this can be addressed by legislation.

Anonymised information means there is no ability to cross-reference and establish whether the respondent is already known, or to check if the allegation may already have been reported to the board by an alternative source.

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