The February 2010 issue of Intercom is now available. Read a feature article from Ian Elliot on looking beyond the Murphy Report. Subscription details below.

February 2010 Issue

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Looking beyond the Murphy Report

Ian Elliott outlines current practice in the area of safeguarding children

Although the Report recently published by Judge Murphy�s team shines light on the past, it says little about the present and the future for the Church. Let us not lose sight of the developments that have taken place or lose our motivation to see that work progress.

A great deal has been written about and much has been said regarding the content of the Report from the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse within the Archdiocese of Dublin. It is easy to be drawn into a focus on the mistakes of the past and lose sight of the developments that have taken place in recent years. Ultimately what matters today is how well are we safeguarding vulnerable children and young people in the Church now. I would argue that we are doing a much better job than we are credited for and far beyond what happened in past years.

Let us examine the evidence to support such a statement. Firstly, throughout and across the Church there are an army of trained volunteers who give freely of their time to create and maintain safe environments for children within parishes up and down the country. These people are learning more each year and increasing their competence to protect children and ensure that best practice is followed when ever concerns arise.

Secondly, at every level of the Church, people who occupy roles that bring them into contact with children are more aware of the dangers and risks that can exist for them. As a consequence, they are more ready to intervene and protect a child if they see them as being at risk.

Amongst those in leadership roles in the Church who previously would not have seen safeguarding training as being something that related to them, these people are participating in training events that are aimed at developing their competence in this vital area of the Church�s life. For example, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church recently ran three two day training events looking at the practice of recording and the exchange of information in the field of safeguarding. Each course was attended by members of the hierarchy, provincials and religious superiors, each of whom contributed greatly to the proceedings. In a very tangible way, this evidences a profound change in the priority that is given to these matters by those in authority in the Church.

The Church has now endorsed and adopted a single, uniform and standards based approach to practice in this field. The publication of the Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance document in February of this year brought everybody on to the same page in relation to how safeguarding concerns are responded to within the Church. The Guidance was acknowledged as being compliant with legislation and best practice in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. It was also in line with canon law. For the first time, guidance existed that if followed would ensure that practice in the Church was up to and above that which existed in any other agencies on the island.

Added to these notable developments the Church created and resourced an independent body which it tasked with auditing and monitoring practice within its boundaries. This body, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, was given a mandate to deliver this and to report its findings in the public domain through the publication of an Annual Report.

When you look at this evidence any objective and fair minded observer would recognise that the Church has tried hard to meet its commitments to safeguard children today and to learn from the mistakes of the past. It is also true to note that these developments tend not to command much attention in the media as they are much less news worthy than reporting on past bad practice. However, it is important to focus on today and on the future and when you do there is much to feel encouraged about.

Going forward with confidence to embrace a new and better future means that we have to acknowledge and learn the mistakes of the past. All of the �Safeguarding Guidance�, the training offered, or the new framework for services adopted, has at its centre the safety and wellbeing of the child. Nothing can or should jeopardise that commitment. The child must always come first before the reputation of any individual or any organisation. This simple fact is consistent with the gospel message but it has on occasions been lost sight of in the past.

Although the Report recently published by Judge Murphy�s team shines light on the past, it says little about the present and the future for the Church. Let us not lose sight of the developments that have taken place or lose our motivation to see that work progress. We still have a way to go but a significant start has been made and we must not falter in our commitment to secure the safety and well being of all children within the Church in Ireland. Anything less than this falls short of being consistent with the values contained within the gospel.

Ian Elliott

Chief Executive Officer
National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church

Intercom

Intercom is a pastoral and liturgical resource magazine published by Veritas, an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops� Commission on Communications.

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