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February 24th 2009
One in Four is concerned that the new Catholic National Board for Safeguarding Children’s Guidelines, “Safeguarding Children”, do not address fundamental concerns about the church’s ability to protect children.
We welcome certain aspects of the Guidelines.  The acknowledgement of the primacy of the national Children First Guidelines is a step forward.  The emphasis on prevention of child abuse across all Church organisations is also a positive move.
However, a number of questions remain. 
A key issue is that the Bishop, through their Designated Delegate, conducts a preliminary internal enquiry before deciding if an allegation should be referred to the civil authorities.  Do Church personnel have the expertise to do this?  In our view, only the Gardai or HSE social workers have the professional competence to undertake such an investigation and to decide if further action is warranted.  This discretionary authority must be removed from the Church.    
The Catholic Church leadership has agreed in the past to comply with Church guidelines, but in many instances have failed to do so.  “Safeguarding Children” introduces a system of yearly self-monitoring for Catholic dioceses and organisations, with a random audit by the NBSC every five years.  Given the recent example of a Bishop misleading the civil authorities in this regard, can we really trust that self- monitoring will be adequate?
The acceptance of Guidelines is one thing, their robust implementation is another.  Should a Diocese or Congregation be in breach of “Safeguarding Children”, what authority has the NBSC to enforce compliance? And what penalties will be imposed?  If the Catholic Church is to retain any credibility, it must be accountable for lapses which place children in danger, and individual Church leaders must be subject to sanctions.
Only time will tell if the “Safeguarding Children” Guidelines are introducing a new ethos regarding child protection in the Catholic Church.  Based on past performance, it is difficult to be optimistic.  The Guidelines do not give the NBSC the authority it needs to ensure that children will be safe.  We must wait and see if the Bishops and the Congregational Leaders can show that the “learning curve” has ended and that they are ready to place the safety of children above the interests of the institutional Church.
One in Four is a national charity which provides services for men and women who have experienced sexual violence.

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Support and resources for people who have experienced sexual abuse and/or sexual violence.