Northern Ireland

Child protection measures apply regardless of religious rules

The Irish justice minister has said that forthcoming child protection measures, including mandatory reporting will "apply regardless of any internal rules of any religious grouping".

Alan Shatter was responding to comments made by Cardinal Sean Brady who defended the seal of confession.

Cardinal Brady stressed it was a "sacred and treasured" rite.

Mr Shatter said past failures in the Catholic Church had led paedophiles to believe they could act with "impunity".

Last month the Cloyne report was published.

It found the diocese failed to report all complaints of abuse to police.

Past failures

As a result, a number of child protection measures were announced under the legislation currently being drawn up.

A priest could be convicted of a criminal offence if they were told of a sexual abuse case and failed to report it to the civil authorities.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr Shatter said: "It is the failure in the past to make such reports that has led sexual predators into believing that they have impunity and facilitated paedophiles preying on children and destroying their lives."

Anyone who fails to declare information about the abuse of a child could face a prison term of five years.

The Irish Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that priests who are given admissions of child abuse during the sacrament of confession will not be exempt from new rules on mandatory reporting.

During his homily to worshippers at Knock shrine in County Mayo, on Sunday, the archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland said: "Freedom to participate in worship and to enjoy the long-established rites of the church is so fundamental that any intrusion upon it is a challenge to the very basis of a free society" he said.

Child protection

The inquiry into the Cloyne Diocese was set up by the Irish government in January 2009 following a report published the previous month.

It was conducted by the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) - a body set up by the Catholic Church to oversee child protection policies.

It found child protection practices in the diocese were "inadequate and in some respects dangerous".

Meanwhile, it has been announced that 22 new seminarians are to begin studying for the priesthood this autumn at Ireland's national seminary, Saint Patrick's College in Maynooth.

The group includes a chartered surveyor, a pub manager, several mature students and at least one school leaver.

The average age of the new entrants is 25-years-old, and they come from 14 of the 26 dioceses of Ireland.

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