Statement by Bishop Michael Smith on the review of safeguarding practice in the Diocese of Meath undertaken by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church
An independent review of safeguarding children in the Diocese of Meath was undertaken in December 2013 and January 2014. The purpose of the review is to confirm that current safeguarding practice complies with the standards set down within the guidance issued by the National Board and that all known allegations and concerns have been appropriately dealt with. I welcome the comprehensive report which is published today.
In its summary, the report concludes as follows:
“The reviewers consider that safeguarding children in the Diocese of Meath is a responsibility taken with the utmost seriousness by diocesan personnel under the leadership and direction of Bishop Smith. The safeguarding team has collectively impressed as a dynamic, hardworking and highly informed group. Together they have brought their expertise to bear in developing a comprehensive safeguarding policy and implementation strategy. It is clear from all sources of information reviewed that there is great enthusiasm and determination in the diocese to oversee the best possible practice. … It is evident that Bishop Smith has shown commitment to and leadership in the development of very good standards in the child safeguarding policies, procedures and practices of the Diocese of Meath. The dynamism, commitment and expertise demonstrated by all whom the reviewers came into contact with are highly commended.” (pp 34 – 35)
The review process involved the fieldwork team reading case management files of priests within the diocese against whom allegations were made. The Report notes that, since January 1975, a total of twenty three allegations have been made against eleven priests in the diocese. The Report notes that all information known to the diocese was shared with the Gardai and the HSE. One priest has been convicted in the Court and the Report states that the diocese cooperated fully with the Garda investigation. Complaints relating to seven priests who are deceased were also examined, noting that in the majority of these cases, the allegations relate to the 1940s 1950s and 1960s. In the review of the single complaints against three priests who are alive – complaints that were deemed unsubstantiated by the statutory authorities – the Report is satisfied that the diocese took all necessary steps to deal with these complaints. The Report identifies that the diocese has a good, cooperative working relationship with the Gardai, HSE and the National Board for Safeguarding Children.
I take this opportunity once again to express my sincere apologies to all who were abused. I encourage anyone who has yet to come forward with information to cooperate fully with the civil authorities and they will be assisted by the Diocese of Meath and the support services established by the Church in Ireland to heal their pain. The diocese offers the counselling facilities provided by Towards Healing and encourages people to avail of whatever help is needed to address the suffering that has been endured.
From their discussions with diocesan personnel and from documentation they examined, the reviewers conclude that “a great deal of effort has in fact been made by the diocese to respond in a compassionate, pastoral and supportive way to complainants. It is recommended however that for the sake of thoroughness all contact with complainants and actions taken to support them must be noted and recorded in the case management files. By not recording all actions that take place, the diocese is not doing justice to the positive work its staff has actually carried out.”
The Review evaluates the efforts that have been made to create safe environments for children to ensure their current and future safety. The review process uses the seven Standards outlined within “Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance”, 2009. Each Standard contains a list of criteria, which are indicators that help decide whether this Standard has been met. The report finds that 44 of the 48 criteria are “fully met” and that the remaining four criteria are “partially met” by the diocese. The recommendations arising from the findings of the review are accepted and are being implemented. The diocese appreciates the guidance from the reviewers, particularly in relation to ongoing risk assessment and risk management.
I welcome the findings of this Report. However we must not be complacent. There is always further work of vigilance to be done to ensure that, to the best of our ability, the abuse of children does not take place. I renew my appreciation to all who have helped us to create in our 69 parishes a place where children are cared for, listened to and loved.