Northern Ireland

Is more child abuse still to be uncovered in the Catholic Church?

child holding hands over face
Image caption There have been 33 allegations of abuse made against Catholic priests in the Derry and Dromore dioceses since 1975.

The latest reports into child sex abuse within the Catholic Church in Ireland confirm that the scandal did not stop at the Irish border.

Children in Northern Ireland were badly affected too. The full extent of their suffering will never be known.

In the Derry and Dromore dioceses, since 1975, there were allegations of abuse against a total of 33 priests. Nineteen of them are now dead.

The number of convictions for child abuse in these two dioceses? Zero.

In Derry, rather than "robustly challenging" priests, they were often simply moved to a different parish. The history of child abuse in the church shows that moving a paedophile priest sometimes merely allowed him access to another set of young victims.

It would be wrong to assume that all the allegations against priests were true. In the church, as in the courts, there should be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Nonetheless, the lack of convictions in Dromore and Derry does raise questions.

Across the border in Donegal, there were allegations of abuse against 14 priests since 1975.

They are all still alive.

Four of them have been convicted, including Fr Eugene Greene - arguably the most notorious paedophile priest in Irish history.

Greene was found guilty in 1999 of abusing 26 boys, including 16 boys in one parish between 1976 and 1981. How was he able to get away with it?

Cynics will say that he was shielded by the church, and anyone who knew about it deliberately decided to turn a blind eye.

However, others point to the powerful place of the Catholic Church within Ireland at that time, and the pedestal on which priests were placed. Many of those who were abused may simply have been too scared to speak out.

Abuse allegations

Times have now changed in Ireland.

For many Catholics, the church has lost its sacred place in society. Ireland recently decided to close down its embassy at the Vatican. The reason given was cost-cutting but it was seen by many as a calculated snub.

In July, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny attacked the Vatican, accusing it of narcissism and elitism.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, admitted recently on Irish television that some priests were being shouted at in the street.

He said: "I was at a funeral the other day of a priest who died. There were six elderly priests there. Men of tremendous integrity and goodness. Somebody shouted at them 'you should be ashamed of yourself'."

The church has, however, made efforts to improve its child protection measures, on both sides of the border.

The reports into six dioceses - including Derry and Dromore - by the National Board for Safeguarding Children show that most concerns have been addressed. Better systems are now in place and, crucially, the authorities are being notified more promptly about allegations of abuse.

The culture of cover-up has changed. However, for the victims, the pain remains.

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