Irish Church at the 'tipping point'

An Irish child shakes hands with Cardinal Sean Brady. A leading expert on child protection appealed to Irish bishops to fully cooperate with the Church's own watchdog.

CNS PHOTO | CATHAL MCNAUGHTON, REUTERS

An Irish child shakes hands with Cardinal Sean Brady. A leading expert on child protection appealed to Irish bishops to fully cooperate with the Church's own watchdog.

June 13, 2011
MICHAEL KELLY
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

DUBLIN — A leading international expert on child protection has appealed for bishops and religious superiors in Ireland to fully cooperate with the Church’s own watchdog.

“I don’t think the rest of the Catholic world is aware that there are still battle lines being drawn within the Church in Ireland,” said Monica Applewhite.

“Most people assume that with the publication of such detailed and painful governmental reports, that there must now be a universal desire to operate with transparency,” she said.

Applewhite, an American, spoke to Catholic News Service after a recent visit to Ireland where she advised the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.

Her comments came after the CEO of that body, Ian Elliott, admitted he had considered resigning over a lack of Church cooperation.

“I believe we are at that tipping point in the Irish Church,” Applewhite said. “The time has come for every leader within the Irish Church to choose where he or she stands — who will emerge for transparency and change and who will stay in hopes of maintaining the status quo?

In its most-recent annual report, the safeguarding children board revealed that, after it had completed reviewing just three dioceses, the remaining dioceses and religious congregations withdrew cooperation with the audit, citing legal advice over data protection concerns. These legal concerns were addressed and the audit is continuing.

“It saddens me that there are still leaders in the Church who elect to follow the advice of attorneys rather than listening to their own pastoral instincts or hearing the encouragement of the faithful to embrace a new era of accountability and openness,” Appelwhite said.

Following the publication of the report critical of the Church’s lack of cooperation, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin — who has won praise for his forthright handling of abuse and work with state inquiries — criticized the board for giving a negative impression and ignoring the good work that has been done in child safeguarding in Ireland.

DATA PROTECTION

Martin also said he was disappointed the board presented concern over data protection as “a form of obstructionism on the part of the bishops, the religious and the Irish Missionary Union.”

It was actually the board’s lawyers, he said, who discovered that data protection presented a problem.

Applewhite also urged Catholics to support and encourage their bishops and religious leaders to move in the right direction.

“Those of us who love the Church in spite of its failings are the people who most desire systems of accountability.”

Applewhite warned “the Irish people will never accept anything short of complete transparency.

“That means that if the Church safeguarding system ultimately fails in its efforts, then governmental entities will again be forced to step in and use their authority to obtain the relevant documents.