It’s been a year since Church leaders, abuse survivors and experts came to the Vatican for an unprecedented summit entitled the “Protection of Minors in the Church”.

The meeting provided the opportunity to listen to victims, raise awareness, develop new norms and procedures, and share good practices.

It also focused on three key themes: responsibility, accountability and transparency.

At the end of the meeting on February 24 2019, Pope Francis said, “the best results and the most effective resolution that we can offer to the victims, to the People of Holy Mother Church and to the entire world, are the commitment to personal and collective conversion, the humility of learning, listening, assisting and protecting the most vulnerable.” 

Ireland and safeguarding

One country that has suffered immense pain and suffering as a result of the scourge of child clerical sex abuse is Ireland.

During his visit to the country in 2018 for the World Meeting of Families, the Pope asked for “forgiveness for these sins”.

So just what has been the impact in Ireland one year on from this milestone meeting?

That was the question put to Teresa Devlin, Chief Executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Her answer was clear; progress has been made, but there is more to do.

The Chief Executive described the February 2019 meeting as “extraordinary”, adding that “it brought front and centre the importance of child safeguarding into the Catholic Church.”

Ireland has had child protection procedures in place since 1996, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the country introduced a standardised approach to dealing with allegations and “responding compassionately”.

Strides made but more to do

Although significant strides had been made in the area of safeguarding in Ireland even before the Vatican summit; what Pope Francis’ meeting did was “to remind us in Ireland again of the need to up our game; to become even more aware of the risk to children…”, Ms Devlin said.

She also pointed out that there is still more work to do in terms of improving the practice of procedures that are already in place.

Ms Devlin said, that in the country “the practice in terms of the prevention, the safeguarding, keeping children safe, creating environments that are safe, that is all good.”

But what can be improved upon, she acknowledged, is the “responding part of the safeguarding. “

She noted that when people come forward, “there is much more to be done to make sure that there is a consistent response that is kind, believing, that offers people that have been hurt in the Church a path to deal with that hurt that doesn’t hurt them further.”

Although not part of her safeguarding remit, Ms Devlin did stress that there was also considerably more work to be done in relation to vulnerable adults in Ireland and abuse of trust.

Online abuse

One clear and present danger in terms of children, Ms Devlin emphasized, is online abuse.

“If people who were in the Church can no longer harm children because of the safeguards that are in place, they’re going to go somewhere else, and online is obviously a risk. So, we have to understand the risks that are presented through electronic media and scale ourselves up to manage risks presented in those situations.”

Risk of complacency

The Chief Executive stressed that there was no room for complacency.

“Because we have been going through this process for twenty years in Ireland there is the tendency to become complacent… and that is where we have to keep reminding people that while the worst hopefully is over, there is the huge risk of us becoming complacent.”

(Source: Lydia O’Kane, Vatican News)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.