National Catholic Reporter

The Independent News Source

Irish prelate focuses on positive work on sex abuse

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WASHINGTON -- The Irish archbishop who gave the government 70,000 church documents concerning clergy sexual abuse of minors said he was concerned that the presentation of a recent report by Ireland's child safety watchdog might discourage the church's child protection workers.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said he was concerned that the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church presented its report May 11 by emphasizing negative things, not the progress being made.

"I'm actually worried that the manner in which the national board decided to present as their primary dimension of their report, negative aspects, will have damaged -- not the credibility of the bishops, but the confidence of the people who are working in the diocese like mine."

After the discovery of thousands of cases of clergy sexual abuse, most of them from the 20th century, thousands of volunteers were trained in child protection, and each Dublin parish now has someone monitoring the situation.

"If they (volunteers) feel that their time is being wasted, when in fact it isn't, I think that could be damaging," Archbishop Martin told Catholic News Service May 16.

At a Dublin news conference presenting the board's third annual report, Ian Elliott, chief executive of the safeguarding board, expressed frustration about getting information from church officials, although he acknowledged that concerns over data protection had been resolved.

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Archbishop Martin told CNS he was disappointed that the board presented concern over data protection as "a form of obstructionism on the part of the bishops, the religious and the Irish Missionary Union."

The board, set up in 2006, was established as one step removed from the church to give it independence, but that meant it was a third party. Archbishop Martin said it was actually the board's lawyers that discovered this created a problem.

"Irish data protection law doesn't allow you to pass sensitive personal data to third parties," he told CNS. "We had to find -- and it took a long time -- to find a formula which would permit us to do that in certain circumstances, but it places heavy restrictions on all parties about revealing identities. This means that carrying out the review (of abuse cases) has been delayed, and the review will inevitably be unsatisfactory because of the restrictions that are placed -- not by the bishops or the religious or by the board -- but by the law.

"In the case of immediate and direct risk to children, data protection measures don't apply," he added.

He also expressed concern that the board's report indicated that it had had problems receiving information from the bishops within the past year.

"Every known allegation in the past year had been adequately presented to the police and to the health service," Archbishop Martin said, adding that "this is enormous progress compared to the past." He said he thought it was more important that allegations be presented to the competent authorities than to the safeguarding board.

The archbishop called "a gross misrepresentation of the truth" a report that Elliott's board launched a new training program and the bishops refused to finance it.

The bishops decided each diocese should pay for training, "which I believe is a more effective way of doing it," he said, adding that they also provided a financial administrator to help manage the training.

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