Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Clerical abuse: Martin backs off church 'forces' claim

Clerical abuse: Martin backs off church 'forces' claim
Bid to defuse row as new cases emerge

By John Cooney
Tuesday May 18 2010

ARCHBISHOP Diarmuid Martin last night moved to defuse the row over his claims that there were "strong forces" in the church hiding the truth about clerical sex-abuse scandals.

In what will be seen in many areas of the church as a climbdown, he insisted that he was not referring to specific individuals when he controversially spoke out last week.

Dr Martin broke his silence after he was challenged to clarify his remarks by the head of the Catholic Church's child-protection watchdog, who revealed that almost 200 new cases of sex-abuse allegations were made last year.

But despite the ensuing public furore, Dr Martin last night refused to point the finger of blame at any individual. After a week of sustained criticism from within the church, Dr Martin's spokesperson said he was only referring to "cultural" resistance to change.

In a hard-hitting address to the Knights of St Columbanus, Dr Martin had claimed that strong forces in the church would prefer scandals about paedophile priests to be kept secret.

However, the head of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, Ian Elliott, yesterday said he was not aware of any widespread non-compliance with the rules on handling abuse complaints.

Mr Elliott said he was anxious to sit down with Dr Martin and discuss his comments.

"Perhaps he knows something I don't," said Mr Elliott.

"It really is very important that if there is knowledge of non-compliance that we share that information, so that it can be addressed.

"I believe Archbishop Martin would know that he could do that with confidence to the National Office and the matter would be addressed -- regardless of who it was or where it was.

"If he had the evidence and shared it with us, we would address it."

Dr Martin's comments have been the subject of intense media and church speculation over the past week.

His remarks were widely interpreted as criticisms of Pope Benedict, the Vatican, the Primate of All-Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, conservative bishops in the Irish hierarchy and ordinary members of the clergy.

Dr Brady last night confirmed that he would not be standing down amid the furore over his role in the cover-up of notorious paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.

In a statement, he said he would continue "the vital work of healing, repentance and renewal, including engagement with survivors of abuse".

Earlier, Mr Elliott said that without evidence, it would be very hard to take the matter further.

"We don't have evidence of widespread non-compliance. On the contrary," he said. "We have increasing evidence of a commitment to change."

The National Board's 2009 annual report revealed a raft of damning new allegations against church figures in the past 12 months.


Key findings of the report include:

New allegations against 197 people were reported between April 1, 2009 and the end of March 2010 -- all historical in nature. They entail sexual, physical and emotional abuse. None came from young people or children and some dated back more than 50 years.
Eighty-three of the alleged abusers are dead. Thirty-five have been laicised or dismissed from their congregations.
Three parishes, Ossory, Killala and Clonfert, have no trained safeguarding representative in place.

Mr Elliott said stronger legislation was needed across the island, with greater allocation of resources to ensure that children are protected.

Board chairman John Morgan said the church was undergoing a degree of reflection but much more still needed to be done, including more shared authority with the laity.

He also said the board wanted to change the attitude of the church towards abuse allegations. Maeve Lewis, chief executive of the survivors' group One in Four, last night said both Mr Elliott and Archbishop Martin were correct in saying there were still problem areas in the church, which were not uniform in their interpretation of the protection guidelines.

Ms Lewis said it was extraordinary that three dioceses -- Clonfert, Killalla and Ossory -- had not put training programmes in place for protection delegates.

However, she added there was nothing sinister in this as these dioceses did not stand out as the worst cases in the charity's experience.

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