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Bishop Leo O'Reilly's Homily
post the Murphy Report on Cloyne
Cathedral of Saints Patrick & Felim, Cavan
31st July 2011, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I’m reluctant to talk about the Cloyne report today. You have probably heard more than enough about it already. I was away on holidays when the report came out and part of me wanted to stay away. Who wants to hear another story of priests who betrayed their sacred trust by abusing children, another story of the failure of the Church authorities to deal with the matter effectively? The worst part of this case is that we are not talking about how a diocese dealt with abuse 30 or 40 years ago, but about the past 15 years when Church guidelines were already in place. The bishops agreed the guidelines in 1996, but, inexplicably, the diocese did not follow them. Of course, the inevitable conclusion that people draw is that every diocese is the same, that nothing has changed, and that you can’t trust any of them.
Well, the first thing I’d like to say is that every diocese is not the same as Cloyne. I can only speak first hand for the diocese of Kilmore and I can assure you that it is not the same. The 1996 Guidelines have been implemented in our diocese and the two further sets of guidelines that have come since then are being implemented. I would not be so rash as to claim that we have done everything perfectly. But I can assure you that every complaint of abuse and every allegation or suspicion of abuse has been reported to the Gardai and to the HSE. We have published on our website the statistics about allegations against priests in the diocese from 1947 to the present. You will also find on our website or in any church porch the contact details of our Designated Persons who are there to receive any complaints of abuse and to ensure that they are acted upon. There are also contact details for help and counselling for those who want it.
For some years now we have had a full-time Director of Safeguarding Children in the diocese. She is Sr Suzie Duffy and her office is in the Diocesan Pastoral Centre. Every parish in the diocese now has at least one, sometimes two or three, child safeguarding representatives. They have received several sessions of training in safeguarding children and they are responsible for ensuring that child protection procedures are implemented in parishes. All our priests have also received extensive training and that training is ongoing as we continue to implement the new guidelines being produced to take account of new developments. Priests now sign up to a child safeguarding code of conduct and are vetted by the Gardai like others who work with children. Any parent who has children serving Mass will know that there are very strict policies and procedures that have to be followed. In fact many people think we have gone over the top in our safeguarding procedures but we make no apology for them.
Despite all the procedures and policies, there is no room for complacency. No safety plan is 100% foolproof. There is always the possibility that someone who is determined enough, or reckless enough, will flout the procedures and abuse. We found this to our cost some years ago when one of our priests was convicted of abusing a young person. But the reassuring thing is that the abuse came to light early and was stopped immediately, and the perpetrator was caught and convicted and is now serving a prison sentence.
For me the one ray of hope in the Cloyne story is that it was first detected and exposed by the body set up by the bishops to implement the Church’s child protection procedures. It was Mr Ian Elliott of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church who first investigated what was happening in Cloyne rigorously and was responsible for bringing to light the failures of the diocesan authorities to implement the guidelines. It was because of his report that the government decided to extend the Murphy Commission’s investigation to Cloyne. We now have a body to which bishops and religious superiors are answerable in relation to the safeguarding of children. That body is independent. It has been seen to have teeth and to work. I think that should be reassuring for anyone who has concerns about the safety of children in the Church.
Despite all that I have said, I am conscious that, for anyone who values their faith and their Church, this has been a very difficult time. It has been a hard time also for the hundreds of volunteers in the diocese who work so generously for the Church and particularly for those who have given their time and talents to act as child safe-guarding representatives in our parishes. It has been a very difficult time for our priests who once again feel tarnished by the crimes of other priests and the failures of bishops and those in authority to do their duty. The positive side which must give us hope is that the Cloyne report is a vindication of victims and survivors of abuse. It is a vindication of those who had to courage to speak up and continued to speak up when their voices were not being heard. They are the ones who must be foremost in our thoughts and prayers today.