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Pressure on Bishop To Quit [Publication of National Board for Safeguarding Children (NSBC) Report]

Irish Examiner, December 20, 2008 by Claire O’Sullivan and Paul O’Brien

BISHOP OF CLOYNE John Magee was coming under strong pressure to resign last night as a damning Church report revealed he and his diocese had put children at risk by delaying in reporting clerical sex abuse to gardaí and failing to immediately remove alleged offenders from ministries.

The report from the Catholic Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children (NSBC) found the Co Cork diocese was "significantly deficient" in dealing with alleged child abuse cases and "failed to focus on the needs of the vulnerable child".

It also said the diocese had no understanding of the effects of paedophilia, or of the high level of re-offending. The report’s author, Ian Elliott, said that after a victim approached the bishop and his child protection team with a complaint, the actions taken were "minimal and were delayed".

He also noted that the complaints made to the bishop were credible and that more children were put at risk because of this failure to react appropriately.

"The diocese is vulnerable to being seen to be complicit in not taking action to remove these people from the priesthood," Mr Elliott wrote in the report.

Mr Elliott said that the NSBC began to investigate the handling of claims after it was alerted to two serious complaints where the victims reported a perceived lack of willingness by the bishop and fellow priests to follow appropriate child protection regulations.

In the case of the second victim, the failure of the diocese to process her complaint properly had led to "significant additional trauma".

In a statement last night, Bishop Magee said he was "disappointed" at the contents of the report, saying he had accepted its findings and that the diocese would now ensure best practice in the area.

Bishop Magee made the decision to publish the report after the Department of Health, who received it last July, said they wouldn’t publish it. "I co-operated with this review and fully accept its recommendations. I am currently implementing the findings of this review," said the bishop.

He has said he won’t be resigning over the issue.

Chief executive of One in Four Maeve Lewis said that the report was "devastating" and showed that the Church was incapable of "monitoring its own child protection regulations".

Ms Lewis added that the two complaints highlighted in the report were "the tip of the iceberg" and that they had more complaints about the disregarding of abuse complaints by the diocese.

She warned however that this attitude to child protection wasn’t confined to Cloyne and that clients in several other dioceses had encountered similar reactions from the Church.

"The Ferns report seemed to signal that the Catholic Church was prepared to follow rigorous procedures in relation to allegations of sexual abuse, and to work closely with the HSE and the gardaí. However, each bishop is autonomous within his own diocese and can exercise complete discretion as to how an allegation should be handled. We must wonder if other scandals are to come," she said.

Labour TD Sean Sherlock said Bishop Magee’s response was "simply not adequate" and called on him to consider stepping down.

Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter said the report was "a damning indictment of the failure on the part of Church authorities to implement essential child protection procedures".

Minister for Children Barry Andrews has repeatedly insisted that the report was an internal Church document, and therefore not for him to publish. He says he will publish a separate HSE report into the issue.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday, December 20, 2008