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'Persuasion' Behind The Scenes Brought Report To Light

The Irish Times, January 6, 2009, PATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent

ANALYSIS: SO NOW we know. We know why a damning report - completed by June 30th, 2008 - on the management of two child protection cases in Cloyne diocese was not published until December 19th last.

In forwarding the report to the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews, on August 18th last, Ian Elliott, chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) in the Catholic Church in Ireland, sought "an unconditional indemnity" to hold it "harmless in respect of any liability arising from the publication of our report in advance of directly providing that report to the HSE".

Mr Elliot wanted the State to provide him with legal protection should it publish the report before the HSE got it. No such indemnity was provided, and the report was ultimately published by the diocese itself.

Between July 9th, 2008, and some time recently, Mr Elliott had been operating under a most serious threat where publishing his report was concerned.

He had been warned that if he issued it "in its present form", the committee which advised Bishop John Magee on the handling of child abuse cases in Cloyne, would "seek remedies in either ecclesiastical or secular courts or both". If he so published, the committee would consider it "a further expression of recklessness and indifference and disregard for the truth which could be considered as malice as it is known to the law".

Mr Elliott and the NBSC could be under no illusion as to what was thought of the report in Cloyne. Despite this, they did not waver. They stood by the report in its entirety, as they still do. It was the diocese which was for turning. It came around totally and to such a degree that not alone did Cloyne accept the NBSC report in its entirety, and its recommendations, but it was Cloyne and only Cloyne which published it.

Some day we may know the extent of "persuasion" involved behind the scenes and just how high in the church the agents of such persuasion went.

For now one can only sit back and wonder. Maybe the simple clarity of the NBSC reports findings helped to focus Cloyne minds.

In its Assessment of Child Protection Practice in the diocese, the report concluded "the bishop is the responsible person in these matters".

It continued: "The responsibility to take action and to make decisions cannot be delegated from the bishop to other bodies, regardless of what level of expertise it is assumed they hold.

"This appears not to have been properly understood in both of these cases. There is a very clear difference between an advisory role and a decision-making one."

However injured the feelings of the Interdiocesan Case Management Advisory Committee, which wrote in such thunderous tones to the NBSC last July, the same committee dealt with such cases involving both neighbouring dioceses of Limerick and Cloyne.