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Audit on abuse prompts new criticism of Irish hierarchy

Catholic World News - September 05, 2012

A new report on the handling of sex-abuse policies by Irish Church officials has sparked a new round of criticism of the Irish hierarchy. And an apology issued by one Irish bishop, who said that he had not understood the nature of the problem, prompted outrage and questions about that bishop’s fitness for office.

The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC), an independent group commissioned by the Irish hierarchy, found widespread problems in the four dioceses it studied, and even more severe problems in Irish religious orders.

The NBSCCC severely faulted diocesan handling of sex-abuse complaints in past decades, but also found that one religious order had failed to report sex-abuse complaints to civil authorities as recently as last year. The group’s report was particularly scathing in its treatment of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, saying that “it is difficult to express adequately the failure of this society to effectively protect vulnerable children.”

The Irish government’s minister for children, Frances Fitzgerald, said that the report was shocking, particularly in its revelations about “the extent of the cover-up and the failures to safeguard children, whether by acts of commission or omission.”

In one diocese (Cork and Ross), the NBSCCC found that British priests were living in retirement after being convicted for abusing children. In another diocese (Clonfert), the report revealed that Bishop John Kirby had transferred two priests to new parish assignments after they had been reported for abusing children.

Bishop Kirby, who has headed the Clonfert diocese since 1988, apologized for his mishandling of the accused priests, explaining that he did not understand the problem at the time. While he acknowledged a “grave mistake,” he attributed his actions to “gross innocence and naivete.” But the bishop drew angry reactions when he went on to say that he thought an abusive relationship was “a friendship that crossed a boundary line.”

Ian Elliot, the director of the NBSCCC, expressed his dismay at Bishop Kirby’s response in a radio interview. Although he did not openly call for the bishop’s resignation, the head of the watchdog group said: “Care needs to be taken, when appointing a bishop, that you do not appoint a bishop with these attitudes.”

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