The fearful Fathers – the aftermath of the Cloyne Report.

Although this is a report from the secular press, it highlights the very real costs to the people of Ireland, especially the priests who daily have to defend the what, at times, is almost impossible to defend. 

From: The Irish Times

Pope Benedict and John Magee, then bishop of Cloyne, at the Vatican. Photograph: LOsservatore Romano

KATHY SHERIDAN

Angry, isolated, paranoid and ageing, many of Ireland’s ‘ordinary’ Catholic priests feel failed and abandoned by the church hierarchy. But where were the ‘good priests’ when they were needed?

THE VOICEMAIL was succinct. “Why don’t you, Mister Hoban, f**k off back to Rome with your nuncio . . . Piss off back to Rome, you f**ked-up celibates.” There were more. “Keep away from my children, you bunch of perverts,” for example.

Fr Brendan Hoban transcribed these voicemails dutifully, along with other parish messages. He reveals the wording after some reluctance. His hesitancy is rooted in the same terror that has sent most priests deep into their parish bunkers this week, the terror of appearing to place the anguish of their own tattered, lonely souls above the suffering of the victims of clerical abuse.

So last week, when the Cloyne report was crashing into the public consciousness, Hoban, the 63-year-old parish priest of Ballina, Co Mayo, would have returned to the empty parochial house, heard the messages and told no one. Then he would have repaired to his icy livingroom, where the sleeping bag on the armchair and the little plug-in radiator bear testament to the mean summer temperature of the ugly, soulless house he calls home.

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny was launching an unprecedented, historic attack on the Vatican in Dáil Éireann, accusing it of downplaying or “managing” the rape and torture of children “to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’ ”. Ireland, he declared, was not Rome but “a republic of laws . . . where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version, of a particular kind of ‘morality’, will no longer be tolerated or ignored”.

Brendan Hoban wonders what all the fuss is about. Enda Kenny was saying nothing that Irish priests haven’t been saying for years, he claims, about what the bishops should be doing. “In effect, he is challenging Rome as distinct from the Irish church. We have no problem living in a democratic republic and I think we have shown ourselves, in the main, as people who have made a contribution to that republic . . . We have been waiting a long, long time for the bishops to say: ‘Let us run our own affairs, rather than tying our hands behind our backs . . .’ ”

But the Taoiseach’s statement does raise a concern, he adds. “It’s that the Republic could become a cold place for Irish Catholics, as a result of an unnecessary confrontation between church and state. We fear that people would take from Enda Kenny’s statement that this is a dressing-down of priests and bishops, when it’s a dressing-down of Cloyne and Rome, and could be regarded as fodder for other agendas that might be coming up.”

Indeed, the Taoiseach was careful to address the anguish of the “good priests” in his statement: “This Roman clericalism must be devastating for good priests, some of them old, others struggling to keep their humanity, even their sanity, as they work so hard to be the keepers of the church’s light and goodness within their parishes, communities and the human heart.”

For them, their powerlessness has long been confirmed in the heedless appointment of bishops lacking the competence, intellect or independence of spirit to address the spiritual needs of a rapidly evolving republic; bishops such as Cloyne’s John Magee. “He never worked in a parish, so had no experience of how to run a parish, never mind a diocese. I’m not blaming him for that – it’s back to who appointed him,” says Fr Billy O’Donovan, of Conna, in the Cloyne diocese.

It was Rome that handed the power to John Magee to appoint a head of child protection. Magee chose Msgr Denis O’Callaghan, then in his late 70s. Says another priest: “Denis O’Callaghan is an absent-minded professor – and they put him in charge of child protection?”

O’Callaghan is “a man with a great heart”, says Fr Hoban, “but completely disorganised”.

THERE IS CLEARLY a deep anger among ordinary priests. This is reflected in the 550-plus membership of the fledgling Association of Catholic Priests. But where were those angry, articulate voices when the damage was being done, when Rome was directing this republic’s affairs and their brothers in Christ were violating the young and vulnerable? They were where they always were, says Hoban, “trying to do 1,001 things and trying to do them the best they can.”

So does that explain their silence? There are two “difficulties”, Hoban says. The first is the mistaken belief that a diocese is run by the bishop and the priests together. “The fact is we are totally excluded from any say . . . Priests are effectively disenfranchised.”

The other difficulty is loyalty. Priests live isolated lives. “The dynamic of our ministry is that friends are very few and far between, but there is extraordinarily strong loyalty among the clergy,” Hoban says. As well as that, “we were not people who would challenge the status quo. Those who would were weeded out in the seminary.” Then there is the perennial problem of being “at the bishop’s mercy” in relation to transfers and advancement. And thus the silence. Does it all sound a bit self-serving? “Yes, it’s fair to say that it was self-serving. That lack of moral courage.”

To illustrate this, he describes how a bishop and liturgists have been traversing the Irish dioceses, giving seminars to priests on the controversial new missal translations. Despite the huge unease there was little or no reaction from audiences. Then the bishop came to Knock, where he overran his speaking time, leaving no time for the pre-lunch question-and-answer session. After lunch he launched straight into speaking mode again, whereupon one brave soul stood up and stated that a discussion was needed. It sounds like the scene where Oliver Twist asks for more food. Slowly, amazingly, the courageous priest was followed by several more.

“The liturgists were amazed because they presumed there was no opposition, as they hadn’t seen it before,” says Hoban.

Or maybe they hadn’t been reading the papers. It demonstrates what a cold place the church can be for a dissident, says Hoban. “And we have reaped the whirlwind . . . If a good guy said anything , he said it to the bishop or the parish priest and felt that he’d done what was required. Guys find themselves in situations where their instinct says this doesn’t concern me. Because the message always was: go into your parish; diocesan policy is not your concern.”

In short, blinded by loyalty and conformism, priests trusted too much. Now, pole-axed by fear, they are overcompensating. Some have described their fellow clergy as “evil priests” in newspapers; one urges people to boycott the church collections.

The priests’ fear is no longer of the bishops; it’s of the head-spinning no-man’s-land where they now find themselves. Ageing and isolated, they are operating in hostile territory where their Rome-appointed shepherds are themselves in a state of confused terror – “running around like 27 headless chickens”, according to Fr Tony Flannery – and where the Irish church’s straight-talking totem, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, has effectively alienated them all. The isolation and exclusion, compounded by this alienation from their bishops, explains much of the sense of abandonment and fear felt by many priests.

“The feeling is that in their lifetime there will be no end to this,” says Hoban. “For 10 years they’re blue in the face going to courses, seminars, studying guidelines . . . You could call it a high state of paranoia. Then, after all that, something happens in Cloyne and the bottom falls out of it.”

But the paranoia has also infected the priests’ day-to-day pastoral work. “A woman comes to the door who may have psychiatric problems . . . What do I do? Take a chance by letting her into my front room? There is no doubt that priests have withdrawn, that they’ve become ultracareful and ultrasensitive on how they might be compromised.”

This is the raw terror of men who find themselves accused and deserted. It’s another reason why so few are prepared to go public about anything.

“There is a phobia among them,” says Hoban. “It’s to do with the fear of accusations, especially ones that go back 30 years. It could be about exposure of an indiscretion from when he was a young priest. Or he could have a nervous disposition and have a phobia of false accusations being made.”

Privately, priests believe that some of those historic accusations are deeply suspect or “shady”, as one put it. “But you’re considered guilty from the word go,” say Fr Billy O’Donovan. “You almost have to prove your innocence.”

Accused priests have been publicly stood down, excised instantly from the diocesan directory, left with little or no income, ordered to vacate the parish house in days. It depends entirely on individual bishops.

“There can’t be a priest in this country who doesn’t think the HSE and the civil authorities shouldn’t be informed as a matter of course ,” says Fr B, a priest who was falsely accused, “but there is also a matter of natural justice.”

Others cite the case of Canon Niall Ahern, who in 2006 was falsely accused of an offence alleged to have occurred some 35 years earlier. He was back in ministry within months, but not before he had been publicly stood down by his bishop, stigmatised and humiliated in numerous ways. Even when he was restored to ministry he endured headlines such as “Slur Fr returns to pulpit”.

THE COMPLEXITY of the issue is highlighted by Fr Billy O’Donovan. He was asked by the diocese to be the official support for the Cloyne priest who was the subject of Bishop Magee’s notorious contradictory letters, one to Rome and a completely different one for diocesan files. O’Donovan and the accused priest had been friends and their families had been friends.

“But the complexity is that the complainant would also be known to my family,” O’Donovan says. “The awkwardness would be that the complainant’s family would assume that I’d be on the priest’s side.”

Having vehemently protested his innocence to anyone who would listen, that priest ultimately pleaded guilty in court to indecency charges. O’Donovan doesn’t comment on the effect of this on him personally, merely saying that he remains in the role of support person.

Another priest speaks to us on condition of anonymity. Fr B, ageing and in poor health, yearns for what he calls “an adult conversation” with senior church figures about his ordeal. “I’m not looking for money or an apology. I want us to own what happened.”

But, as O’Donovan puts it, the problem is that “of course false allegations have been made, but far too many have been proved”.

Nonetheless, this issue crystallises the abyss that now divides many bishops from their priests. There is no trust of any kind.

“We have the feeling that a facade is being created, such as in the Eucharistic Congress and the new texts, a pretence that all the troubles are now being dealt with and that, from here on, the church will flourish,” says Hoban. “We are not encouraging people to join us. We know it’s not going to solve any problems. In this diocese there will be eight priests left from an original 34 in 20 years’ time. There is no planning . . . The whole thing is imploding with no recognition of this.”

Many trace the current problems to the abandonment of the Vatican II vision of a church of the laity, with parish councils at the core. “Mostly it hasn’t happened . . . So when abuse cases arose they were dealt with by clergy, not by mothers and fathers,” says Hoban.

Now the last of the so-called Vatican II priests are disappearing, and the few young men who are replacing them are universally perceived as fiercely traditional and conservative. Over and over, my conversations with priests return to the calibre of church leaders. This is why O’Donovan, even during Cloyne’s traumatic week, believes that there is a “far more important week ahead”, meaning the appointment of a new bishop.

“Names being mentioned or guessed at are all right wing, conservative and with a Rome background,” he says. “We’ve been there before . . . My biggest fear – and it is a real fear – is that someone would be appointed that priests and people will find unacceptable, and that many, priests and people, will walk in that event. We’ve taken enough. We want someone who will talk to us and listen to us.”

Would Irish priests support a breakaway from Rome? “No,” says Hoban. “What you’re talking about here is the nature of the church. We are deeply unhappy with the competency of the leadership and the drift of Rome. The consultation and transparency we talk about, well, it’s not going to happen in our lifetime. But, to live with yourself, you have to keep saying the things you’re saying. The Association of Catholic Priests is the last fling of the dice.”

Behind all this is the reality of a laity that is voting with its feet. “That’s the other unspoken thing,” Hoban says. “Our ability to speak to their needs is problematic. We don’t have the ability or the connection to speak out of their world. And that’s the result of celibacy, formation and the loneliness of the ministry.”

Why do they stay? “I’m 63,” Hoban says. “What else do I know? If I was 40 I’d look at things differently. There is a sense now that you’re in it and you’re loyal to it and that you owe something to the people you’ve worked with.”

But he is under no illusion. “Age and oddity go hand in hand. And, as someone said, there’s no one odder than an odd priest. It’s also been said that there is no one deader than a dead priest. People get on with it . . . We’re just functionaries.

“Tomorrow, the reality is that I will do a funeral for a family who have lost a father. That is probably the biggest thing that has happened to them in their lives, and they will remember every detail of this day. And you will do your part to the best of your ability. And at the end of it you’ll be able to look back and say: ‘It matters; I made a difference.’ That’s what the good guys are at.”

This weekend, of your charity, please pray for all our Priests.

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About Gertrude

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. and the courage to change the things I can... On Twitter: @marion_luscombe
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23 Responses to The fearful Fathers – the aftermath of the Cloyne Report.

  1. toadspittle says:

    A very brave post to run here, Gertrude. (In Toad’s opinion.) So thank you.

    Pretty damning and devastating.

  2. toadspittle says:

    .
    Toad was also much amused by Gertrude’s wonderful and graceful plug-pulling on the Pagans.

    “All shut up and get outta here! We¡’re sick of it all!”

    (Although rather more subtly put!)

  3. Gertrude says:

    A brave post Toad – perhaps, but these priests in Ireland are really suffering. The cynical might say justly so, but it is a fact that the majority of our priests are, thanks be to God, honest and sincere men living their vocation as God intended. It is to these that we owe our support and our prayers. We need also to hold our Church at this difficult time as well as all those who have suffered as a result of the actions of the minority. Many will use this as a stick to beat the whole Church – but if we are informed (of all opinions) then we are prepared to receive the fall-out.

    Regarding the previous post – it was very informative. Oh that Catholics were as prepared to defend their faith so strongly – the Holy Father would not need to speak of evangelisation.

  4. manus says:

    Yes, a pity, Toad, cos I hadn’t got around to your remarks. You only claimed to be ‘on the pagan’s side’ because you appear to find them even more entertaining than Catholics. But I wouldn’t mess with the pagans if I were you – perhaps some of them take their eye of newt bit seriously, and would consider you a suitable source of raw materials.

    You had very graciously suggested earlier that I might offer some confirmation of the position of Wittgenstein on something or other. I’m afraid I haven’t really ‘done’ him yet – I know rather more about Elizabeth Anscombe his pupil of course. The phrase that sprang to mind sounds like the final line of a limerick: “I would if I could but I Kant.”

    Regarding this very frank piece, above and beyond the raw honesty is an interesting sense of the continuing politics between liberal and conservative in the Irish Church.

  5. manus says:

    Argh! The curse of the apostate’s apostrophe strikes again.

  6. golden chersonnese says:

    Manus reveals:
    Regarding this very frank piece, above and beyond the raw honesty is an interesting sense of the continuing politics between liberal and conservative in the Irish Church.

    Oh never! I wonder what the give-away line was.

  7. toadspittle says:

    .
    Manus: To repeat what Toad said. (Sigh. Sad, ‘smiley’ face))

    “Toad is not on the side of the Pagans here, in case anyone is wondering.”

    And… Toad finds Catholics vastly more entertaining than Pagans. And is confident he will continue to do so. So do not repine.

    And yes, Gertrude, Toad does count a handful of priests among his friends and they are all excellent men. Including the ‘gay’ ones. Especially the ‘gay’ ones.

  8. golden chersonnese says:

    Many will use this as a stick to beat the whole Church – but if we are informed (of all opinions) then we are prepared to receive the fall-out.

    Indeed, Gertrude, I would keep an eye on the ‘politics’ of this, both state and Church.

  9. Gertrude says:

    GC: The state will do what the state will do. The politics of this are not our concern any more than the politics of the Church. My purpose in this post was that it illustrates the sorry state of our innocent priests in that troubled country.

  10. golden chersonnese says:

    My purpose in this post was that it illustrates the sorry state of our innocent priests in that troubled country.

    Hello, Gertrude, and thanks and it was accurate and timely to point that out. The article brought that out well at the beginning with the mention of the content of the text message to “Mr” Hoban. Yes indeed, we should pray for all innocent priests and religious too.

    To be honest, however, it was (mainly Church-) politicking after that bit, as even Fr Hoban himself admits. Even the ‘new translation’ got pressed into service.

    Gertrude, I wonder if the Irish Church authorities should tell those with criminal complaints against clergy or religious to go straight to the police and then come back afterwards for any assistance the Church can give them, which would all too willingly be given, I should think. I think this is now the best thing to do. In this way the guilty would receive their just desserts but those few making false claims against innocent clergy and religious would also receive theirs. The miscreants on all sides will be better deterred from their villainy. There will be no ‘hiding places’ anywhere for either despoilers of youthful trust and innocence or for the despoilers of innocent reputations.

    It would also have the distinct advantage of satisfying a certain amphibian’s (who shall remain nameless) ‘first law’.

    Off to the noon Mass in our national language at a city church which recently celebrated its centenary. It was built in a French gothic style by the fathers of La Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris (MEP), who did much to evangelise this country and neighbouring Thailand and gave the Church many martyrs.

  11. golden chersonnese says:

    ‘just deserts’ even.

    I think I made that mistake because of a pun made by a friend years ago on the title of one of Thomas Merton’s books, The Wisdom of the Desert

    The Wisdom of the Dessert or The Proof in the Pudding.

    Well, it was funnier at the time.

  12. Mr Badger says:

    A very brave post to run here, Gertrude. (In Toad’s opinion.) So thank you.

    I second that. A very moving article.

  13. Gertrude says:

    GC: The abuses that have taken place in Ireland (and elsewhere) are criminal acts. Of course these people should go to the appropriate law enforcement authorities first. I gather the problem in Ireland (in some cases) where this was done, was that, in most cases, these authorities where disbelieving. Of course, times have changed and people are now more confident in speaking of abuse – but years ago, they weren’t. Familial child abuse was (and still is) common and often unreported because the abused were told ‘nobody will believe you’. Though this might seem unlikely in the 21st century, I can assure you that it was common in the 50’s and 60’s.
    There is also the question of financial compensation which I hesitate to say (but will) colours some of the allegations that have been made which , on further investigation are found not to have any basis in truth. I mention this in no way to denigrate the very real accusations that have been made and proved.
    It is to be hoped that now these accusations are made to the appropriate authorities who will then investigate and take up with the Church if found to have any basis. The safeguarding procedures that are now in place (in England & Wales) are rigidly and rightly enforced. It is to be hoped (and prayed) that they are similarly in place in Ireland.

  14. manus says:

    Hi Toad,

    Gosh sorry, I misread you completely. I’ m obviously failing to adapt to the mad rush of comments – whatever happened to the leisurely pace we used to enjoy? Success, I suppose. Still, I’m entertained by the notion of a Toad among pagans.

    GC, after many months of friendly banter, I have now received my first withering blow of your full-on sarcasm. Quite thrilling, I assure you.

  15. Pingback: The depression and hopeless of many Irish priests, and proposals. Fr. Z rants. | Fr. Z's Blog – What Does The Prayer Really Say?

  16. golden chersonnese says:

    Manus, I do apologise. I should be more careful.

    It wasn’t sarcasm directed at you, I assure you, but rather at Ms Sheridan, and I must admit, Mister Hoban, though I feel for him, of course, in his predicament.

  17. Gertrude says:

    A very fair article Teresa – thank you. I had tried to avoid too much comment on Church politics, but is becoming apparant (from Fr.Z and Fr. Ray Blake) that Church politics are indeed in play. I was suprised though to see in the Irish Independent that the mandatory reporting of child sex abuse is not on the Irish statute book. I wonder why?

  18. manus says:

    Hi GC,

    Don’t worry a jot. I wondered afterwards whether you might have read complaint into my comment, which wasn’t intended in the slightest. And indeed, as you point out, your sarcasm was aimed elsewhere, which I fully accept. I love your robust and jaunty style – we need more of it. We need to be gentle with guests, and the regulars should take the rough with the smooth. God bless.

  19. alba says:

    I’m maybe coming a bit late to this blog, but would like to respond to Gertrude’s question: “I was surprised…to see…that the mandatory reporting of child sex abuse is not on the Irish statute book. I wonder why?”

    I don’t know much about the situation in Ireland, but I do know that mandatory reporting of abuse has caused a lot of problems for those required to report, and also for abusers seeking help, and indeed for the victims themselves. So much so, that there are calls to change such laws to make reporting by professionals discretionary. For instance, read this interesting article by an American professor of psychiatry.

    http://ps.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/50/1/27

    From what I understand of the Cloyne case, a letter from the Vatican urged caution about a policy of the Irish bishops to insist on mandatory reporting. If the reasons for this caution were such as are mentioned in this article, the Church’s position was a perfectly reasonable one.

  20. Gertrude says:

    Thank you for the link Alba. I think that the problem with the interpretation of the Vatican’s instructions is what led to the unprecedented recall of the Apostolic Nuncio to Rome last week.

  21. golden chersonnese says:

    Hello, alba, modesty prevents a certain person pointing out that I was trying to make a similar point on an earlier thread here:

    Oh I don’t know, Toad, I think there could be, in some circumstances at least, something to be said for leaving it to victims (or their legal guardians) to report crimes against them.

    Many crimes, for instance, are committed within families and often family members will prefer private reconciliation to calling the rozzers. That wish is something that should be given respect by outsiders, surely?

    However, the article you linked shows that, whether there are mandatory reporting laws or not, only a minority of cases are reported anyway.

  22. Rory Connor says:

    The following is from a discussion on mandatory reporting in Seanad Eireann (the Irish Senate) on 14 March, 1996. It indicates why the Government of the time decided NOT to introduce it. You will note that the Minister responsible gave both reasons for and against the idea. In other words hysteria did not hold sway. When a Bill is introduced later this year you can be sure that the Minister will say nothing about the negative implications – relating to false allegations – and other TDs and Senators will probably be too scared to mention them as well in case they are accused of being soft on child abuse!

    Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse: Motion.
    Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. Currie): It gives me great pleasure to open this debate today and I welcome the opportunity to address all the issues raised by Putting Children First, the discussion document on mandatory reporting. ……….
    Mandatory reporting would involve placing designated professionals under a legal obligation to report known or suspected cases of abuse to the authorities. The purpose of Putting Children First is to stimulate debate on the many, and indeed complex, issues which surround the introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse. Therefore, I welcome this morning’s debate as an important contribution to the consultation process I launched on 29 February last. My aim over the next few months is to learn from the views and experience of others, to gain fresh insights and perspectives on the many issues that surround mandatory reporting. I am under no illusions about the complexity of the task at hand. ……

    Chapter three examines the arrangements for reporting child abuse in other countries. The experience in the United States, where mandatory reporting has been in force for over 20 years, is of particular interest. There has been a huge increase in the number of cases reported, but the number of unsubstantiated cases has increased equally dramatically. The Americans are now looking at a number of changes in their laws to try to improve the operation of mandatory reporting. These include changes in the definition of abuse and sanctions for malicious reporting………

    The background to the introduction of mandatory reporting in the United States was that physicians were on uncertain ground in breaching confidentiality to make reports of suspected child abuse. The original objective of mandatory reporting laws was to promote reporting by physicians of serious physical abuse. Over the years, both the number of professionals required to report and the types of maltreatment involved have been expanded. Public attention in this country has tended to focus on sexual abuse of children. I was surprised when I visited the US in January to discover only 11 per cent of confirmed cases of child abuse in 1994 involved sexual abuse. A far greater proportion — almost 50 per cent — were in the category of neglect. One of the criticisms of mandatory reporting in the US has been that it has led to an explosion in child abuse reports, many of which have not been substantiated.

    A final point I would like to make in regard to the US experience is to point out that their approach to child protection is very legalistic. We need to consider whether we want a legal rather than a good practice obligation on professionals to report suspected abuse. Mandatory reporting could lead to an over-reliance on legal procedures, leaving no room for professional judgment. It is worth nothing that other European countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, which have high quality child welfare services, do not have a system of mandatory reporting. I have some fears that if our child protection system becomes over-legalistic, this could work to the detriment of victims. For example, a child may have to undergo the ordeal of multiple interviews for legal rather than therapeutic purposes. ……

    While at all times promoting and protecting the interests of children, I must also recognise the grave fact that allegations of child abuse, even if subsequently disproved, can have serious consequences for a person’s reputation and good name. Even in the case of a report made with the utmost care and caution and in the best of faith, an allegation may prove to be unfounded. I will also have to consider whether a person — against whom allegations of abuse have been passed by a mandated reporter to the authorities — should be informed of this fact. If I am to introduce mandatory reporting then I will have to consider providing some safeguards or an appeals process for persons against whom such allegations have been made. ……

    Mr. Neville: ………
    Child protection work takes place in a cultural context which is characterised by informality and social relationships. There is a preference for limited bureaucracy and a suspicion of officialdom. The Law Reform Commission concluded in its 1990 report on abuse that a degree of informality or even laxity was apparent in how the law and child abuse procedures were then being interpreted by the professionals. ….

    There is no system of mandatory reporting in the United Kingdom. The view there is that it might be counterproductive and increase the risks to children overall by weakening the professional sense of personal responsibility, casting the shadow of near automatic reporting over the professionals’ work and that it would raise barriers between clients and professionals and between different professionals involved in the case.

    The discussion about the United States experience is interesting. However, the United States, which introduced mandatory reporting of child abuse in 1960, is seriously examining the situation. The report says that the main positive effect of mandatory reporting laws is considered to be the huge increase in the number of child abuse cases reported. It also states, however, that the increase in the number of reported cases has not been matched by a commensurate increase in the number of substantiated cases. The number of unsubstantiated cases has risen by 35 per cent in 1976 to 65 per cent in 1982. While there must be some form of reporting, will blanket mandatory reporting ensure that everybody covers themselves legally, if they have any suspicion at all, by reporting it to the Garda and asking for an investigation? If mandatory reporting is favoured, what form of abuse might be subject to that law? The document challenges this difficult question. The immediate response may be that if there is mandatory reporting, surely all types of abuse should be included? The implications of that can be seen in my previous contribution.

    It has been suggested that mandatory reporting could damage the trust inherent in many professional relationships, such as doctor/patient and teacher/pupil relationships, and place an unnecessary spotlight of attention on the victim, who discloses abuse rather than the perpetrator. Mandatory reporting could discourage some parents from seeking professional attention for their children if they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the child’s condition, no matter what the cause, might lead to a professional automatically reporting any suspicion of abuse to the Garda or the health board.

    Mandatory reporting could have serious implications for the confidentiality of many professional services if professionals were obliged to report cases of abuse that came to light in the course of their consultations. A minor sexual abuse took place in a family involving a teenager sitting his leaving certificate and an 11 year old girl. The mother was extremely frightened about the situation and reported it to her doctor, who referred it on to a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists and psychologists intervened and dealt with the child, who was slightly traumatised. However, their view was that the victim fully recovered in a short space of time. The perpetrator was dealt with, counselled and is now in university. It would be the view of the professionals who intervened in that case that there was a full recovery of that family. If a confrontation involving the Garda took place and accusations were made, the victim might not have recovered in the same way. This was a minor situation. If a serious matter occurs, of course charges must be made; but we cannot have blanket reporting that covers all situations. ……

  23. Gertrude says:

    Thank you for this very clear statement, and thank you for taking the time to clarify exactly why the Irish Government chose at that time not to introduce mandatory reporting of sex abuse.

    For another aspect of this sorry affair might I recommend Mr.O’Conners website: http://IrishSalem.com. This website deals with false allegations of abuse against priests and contains some thoughtful, well reasoned and factually proven elements of the false claims of sexual abuse that have occured and are well documented. A very thought provoking site.

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