Congregations’ child abuse apologies lack credibility

Three religious orders do not demonstrate any change from ‘historical behaviour’

It is practice when reviews of child protection standards are published by the Catholic Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children that these are followed by many apologies from the institutions concerned.

These follow a usual formula welcoming the review, apologising for what was uncovered, and assurances that such will never, ever happen again.

Yesterday, the De La Salle Brothers, the Norbertines, the Nazareth Sisters and the Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd congregations followed suit.

The only one worth considering was from the Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd congregation. Their review proved they are serious about child protection.


But do the De La Salle Brothers expect to be taken seriously when they welcome their review and say “the awful wrong done to survivors of child sex abuse and their families is still hard to comprehend”?

And what of their “unreserved apology”?

Not one of the board’s seven standards for child protection were met by the Brothers. Only one-third of 185 sex abuse allegations made against 76 Brothers were reported to police, as required. They were “incomprehensively late”, for a congregation involved with so many schools, in producing a written policy and procedures on child protection.

That was in 2011, 15 years after the rest of the church in Ireland.

No wonder the board concluded “something has gone badly wrong” where the the De La Salle Brothers are concerned.


And what of the unreserved apology from the Norbertines? Fr Brendan Smyth’s congregation. The number of child sexual abuse allegations against him and three other members is “unknown”.

They accept their management of allegations of abuse and the men concerned were “quite inadequate”. There are better descriptions. “Notorious for its mismanagement,” was how the board put it.

Neither did the Norbertines fully meet any of the board’s seven standards. They, stunningly, did not have “any realisation of the importance of child safeguarding,” the board said. What planet have they been on?

In their “apology”, the Sisters of Nazareth state the obvious. Their “standard of care fell below what was expected of them”. And how. “It was always the desire of the order to provide a safe place for children,” they said. Really?

The board found they were “slow to take up their responsibility for child safeguarding, and they have to accept severe criticism for this”. It was 2015 before they did so, 19 years after the rest of the church in Ireland. This the board found “completely unacceptable”.

So the Sisters of Nazareth’s expression of “deepest regret” on Wednesday has to be be greeted with a salty scepticism. “Urgent corrective action” was needed in those three religious congregations where the protection of children is concerned, the board found.

What is incomprehensible, if not unforgiveable, in this is that the De La Salle Brothers, the Norbertines and the Sisters of Nazareth had witnessed the trauma over child abuse experienced by the church in Ireland over recent decades while doing little themselves.

They had seen the many attempts at effective child protection introduced by the church from 1996 and yet ignored most of these. Repeatedly.

The board’s reviews assess practices at each institution/congregation against the Catholic Church’s child safeguarding standards.

Convicted in courts

These last four are its remaining reviews of Catholic institutions on the island of Ireland. Altogether it was found that 512 allegations of sexual, physical and emotional abuse had been made against 146 priests, brothers and sisters belonging to the four congregations, five of whom were convicted in the courts.

"Without doubt the number is greater," said board chief executive Teresa Devlin. Many were excluded because of legal restrictions to do with redress in the Republic and the Historical Institutional Abuses Inquiry in Northern Ireland.

Of the 512 allegations, 294 (of physical and emotional abuse) were made against 61 Nazareth sisters, none of whom were convicted in the courts; 213 allegations of all forms of abuse were made against 76 De La Salle Brothers, three of whom were convicted; an unknown number of sexual abuse allegations were made against four Norbertine priests (including Fr Brendan Smyth), two of whom were convicted in the courts; and five physical and emotional abuse allegations were made against five Good Shepherd Sisters, none of who was convicted.

Records by De La Salle Brothers, Nazareth Sisters and Norbertines “were incomplete”. Where the De La Salle Brothers and Norbertines were concerned “the majority of allegations related to sexual abuse”, it said.

In a damning observation, it said that for the De La Salle Brothers, the Norbertines and the Nazareth Sisters, “their performance in the recent past does not demonstrate any real change from their historical behaviour, in terms of ensuring good safeguarding practice or putting in place effective pastoral responses to complainants who have made allegations of abuse”.

It encouraged anyone affected by abuse to contact Towards Healing or Towards Peace.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times