The following is an edited version of my Cloyne Report post as it appears in the Letter section of The Kerryman
As appeared in Letters – Kerryman – 3 August, 2011 edition
On 13 July of this year, The Cloyne Report was published and, in essence the 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 is the dates involved, 1996 to 2005. Perhaps it is a still 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. 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.
What the Cloyne Report shows is that this policy was adopted by the Catholic Church and then it was turned on its head. Instead of Children First, it seems to have became a policy of Catholic Church First.
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 and careers will be unnecessarily harmed or even ended.
When I began my childcare career in 1994, I was taught that children never lie about sexual abuse. I left childcare 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.
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 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 service users as their prime responsibility, the problem is the Catholic Church itself interacting with children.
In my view, 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.
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.
In the interim however, spare a thought for those thousands of social care workers, social workers, community workers, nurses, teachers and special needs assistants whose working environments are about to drastically deteriorate. And spare a thought for the coaches and volunteers and neighbours and foster parents and unfortunate parents who will have to face interventions in their lives that they wouldn’t ordinarily have to endure.
Bear in mind too that these hard working and dedicated people will have to tolerate the imposition of mandatory reporting for the simple reason that priests cannot be trusted to put the safety of children above the interests of the church.