Report into church’s handling of child abuse scandals recommends new vetting procedures for clergy
Every trainee Catholic priest in Ireland must attend child protection classes, the Vatican has recommended in a major report on how the church handled the republic’s clerical abuse scandals.
Vatican Radio released the findings of the Holy See’s widespread investigation into seminaries and dioceses across the island of Ireland. It was ordered directly by Pope Benedict XVI as Rome sought to address the child abuse crisis that has severely undermined its reputation and authority in the republic.
The apostolic visitation led by the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, noted that there had been some “progressive steps” towards reforming church structures and in particular the handling of allegations of child abuse. Several Irish judicial inquiries found the Catholic hierarchy had covered up allegations of abuse, often by moving accused priests to other dioceses or even out of the country.
The Vatican proposed new restrictions and vetting procedures on entrance to seminaries for priests, and new child protection training for all would-be clergy in Ireland.
It has also recommended restructuring the number of dioceses in Ireland as part of the church’s internal reforms, although at this stage it gave no details on how many dioceses would be merged.
The statement, released through the Catholic church’s official radio station, said these measures were needed “to ensure that the ‘tragedy’ of the abuse of minors would not be repeated”.
The report said that it must be acknowledged that within the Christian community innocent young people were abused by clerics to whose care they had been entrusted, while those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively.
Praising recent changes to child protection policies in the church, the report said: “The visitators were struck by the efforts made throughout the country by bishops, priests, religious and lay persons to implement the guidelines and to create a safe environment.”
The investigation by a high-powered team of foreign Catholic clerics was promised two years ago by the pope in his letter to Catholics in Ireland.
In his letter the pope expressed horror and dismay in the wake of the Ryan and Murphy reports, which revealed a 70-year history of child abuse by a significant number of priests, brothers and nuns and cover-ups by their religious superiors.
The Holy See tasked six teams with investigating the implications of the abuse scandals in each of the country’s four archdioceses, in religious orders and congregations based in Ireland and abroad. They also visited a number of seminaries training priests both in the republic and in Northern Ireland.
Cardinal Sean Brady, the leader of Ireland’s Catholics, welcomed the publication of the findings of the visitation. Brady said the church expressed a heartfelt plea for forgiveness from victims and from God for the terrible sins and crimes of abuse.
The Irish Catholic church is hosting a major international religious conference – the Eucharistic Congress – in June which Pope Benedict will address via live broadcast. Catholic leaders in the country are hoping it will reinvigorate the Irish church after two decades of scandal and major decline in its temporal power in the state.