On 13 July of this year, The Cloyne Report was published. In essence this report shows that the Catholic Church failed to protect children from harm, between the years 1996 and 2005. That the Catholic Church failed to protect children is not a surprise, the surprise are the dates involved, 1996 to 2005. Perhaps 2011 is a little early to use the phrase ‘last century‘ to describe archaic ideas, but if some of us had given credence to the excuse of ignorance, which Catholic apologists had used to explain away their Church’s behaviour, then 2005 wholly demolishes this ugly attempt at misdirection. There are no more excuses left for the Catholic Church.
Any organisation that routinely interacts with children should have a Child Protection Policy. I would suggest that if you have children involved with an organisation, enquire about their Child Protection Policy. If they don’t have one or the staff are unfamiliar with it, ask why.
Best practice would have these Policies based almost wholly on Children First (1999 and 2010) Guidelines. This policy provides front-line staff and management, of any organisation, with an easy to follow guide on how to protect children and how to report instances of suspected abuse. Put simply if a member of staff has a suspicion, they pass this information to their supervisor, who is responsible for ensuring that the suspicion is reasonable, if the suspicion is reasonable, the HSE and/or Gardai must then be informed. The supervisor establishes only if the suspicion is reasonable, establishing guilt or otherwise is the job of the HSE and Gardai.
What the Cloyne Report shows is that this Policy was adopted by the Catholic Church and then it was wholly subverted. Instead of a Children First Policy, it became a Catholic Church First Practice. In response to this betrayal of trust by the Catholic Church, the Government is now keen to make reporting of suspected abuse mandatory. The discretion that organisations had, will end. Childcare professionals will have to endure investigations when subjected to malicious and nuisance accusations. Careers will be unnecessarily harmed, even ended and lives put in danger. A man accused of murder can still buy his newspaper, but a man accused of sexually abusing a child is a walking target. Yes, allegations should be seen as nothing more than an occupational hazard, but an allegation of sexually abusing a child, can lead one to despair.
When I began my Child Care career in 1994, I was taught that children never lie about sexual abuse. I left Child Care in 2004, utterly exhausted by the measures required to protect oneself from false allegations. I do not resent those requirements, because the best child protection practice, exactly mirrors that which is required of staff to protect themselves from false allegations. Allegations will of course still be made, but if everyone has followed the prescribed protocols, then that allegation can be quickly assessed as either credible or malicious.
Thus a well run establishment provides a safe environment for both service users and staff. Though that fear of a false allegations remains with me, despite being seven years out of the Child Care field. I still get a knot in my stomach when I see unaccompanied males with children.
An added, if invisible, layer of protection for children also exists, culture. During my career I met no fellow professional who felt any loyalty to their employers, be they the Health Boards, charities or Private Providers. Our loyalty was to the provision of care.
This exists in Catholic organisations as well. These organisations persist because of faith, but not, any longer, with the specific aim of transmitting that faith. This allows staff to support service users in whatever faith (or none) that they entered the service with. The service user is the centre of policy and best practice from the HSE or even from outside the country is accessed and incorporated into the policies of the Service.
These policies may not have a statutory footing, but they are part of many child care professionals‘ contracts of employment. It is of course far from perfect. Even through the Boom years, when millions of euro was thrown at Child Protection, Child Services remained under resourced. Mistakes continue to be made, but today, when the State or organisations who operate under the auspices of the State get involved in a child’s life, that child is physically and emotionally safer from those Professionals, than they have ever been in the past.
The problem in the case of Cloyne was not Catholic organisations, largely staffed with lay people, who see their prime responsibility as been their service users, the problem is the Catholic Church itself interacting with children. The prime motivation moving the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church. Since its inception it has put its needs first. It sees itself as God touched. It has spilled blood on an epic scale and still maintains its visage of pious saintliness. That it would confuse the rape of a child with a PR problem is unfortunately a limitation in their morality they may never overcome. And so we must look at Mandatory Reporting.
Few in the frontline of childcare will welcome Mandatory Reporting, but the job is hard anyway, being made that bit more impossible will just have to be borne. Those who work voluntarily with children in sporting clubs, youth clubs etc may however find the risks impossible to bear.
Is there an alternative? I don’t think so. There is no democratic way of ending all interaction the Catholic Church has with children and if the Catholic Church is habitually untrustworthy, then child protection policy must be so stringent that even that institution is forced to put children first.
Now should this extend to ending the toleration that the State gifts to the Church’s belief in the specialness of Confession? No. I rarely go more than 500 words without mentioning that I am an atheist. I can work that fact into almost any subject and this atheist does not favour a legal attack on Confession.
When a Catholic Priest takes a confession, he is taking part in a ritual, where he is acting for and as Jesus. Confession is one of seven sacred rituals or Sacraments, where the Priest becomes the magical conduit of divine power. So even though a serial child rapist may make a confession to a Priest, that Priest genuinely believes himself bound by magical fiat to keep that child abuser’s secrets
This pathology may appall us, but to attack it head on would prove counter productive. A sensibility so warped cannot be healed. The only people who would benefit from the encroachment into centuries old tradition, are the fundamentalists who know that the Catholics who still believe this nonsense, will renew, retrench and enrich their organisation.
There is only one way to deal with this belief system and that is education. The State must gradually ease our education system out of the grasping fingers of the various religions. Simultaneously it must add to the curriculum, of all primary schools, a basic grounding in philosophy. Then as part of the Leaving Certificate Cycle, it must teach the dogmas of all the major religions. Only when the majority of Catholics realise what it is they are actually expected to believe, will the practice of keeping a child rapist’s secrets, eventually disappear.
In the interim however, spare a thought for those thousands of Social Care Workers, Social Workers, Community Workers, Nurses, Teachers and Special Needs Assistants who’s working environments are about to drastically deteriorate. And spare a thought for the coaches and volunteers and neighbors and, foster parents and unfortunate parents who will have to face interventions in their lives that they wouldn’t ordinarily have to endure. And finally spare a thought for the Priests who still believe that their relationship with Jesus is more important than the safety of a child. It is hard to imagine how horrifyingly lonely a man must be, to embrace a morality so irredeemably corrupting and unnatural.