Dublin — The independent watchdog that monitors child safeguarding procedures in the Irish church pledged to follow the example of Pope Francis and "disturb the peace."
Speaking Thursday at the launch of the latest report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, Chairman John Morgan pledged to be a "critical conscience" in the church in Ireland.
Teresa Devlin, CEO of the safeguarding board, said "the church has a new energized leader in Pope Francis, who said that we should 'disturb the peace of any settled ways in the church ... .' I believe, in terms of child safeguarding, that message can be a central theme in the work of the church in Ireland."
She said the board took inspiration from Pope Francis in setting out a vision for coming years. "He said to the young people of Rio de Janeiro: 'Kick up a fuss, I want you to make noise in your church -- go out and make noise in the street, I want the church to go out into the street.' "
The latest report indicates that while there has been significant progress in ensuring robust child protection standards are followed, there is no room for complacency in the church. The body said it was impressed by the church's "openness to scrutiny" and determination to learn from the past.
The board also reviews how dioceses, orders and religious congregations handled allegations of abuse in the past. It provides training and support to thousands of safeguarding officers in parishes across Ireland's 26 dioceses.
Latest statistics show that in the period between April 2013 and March 2014, there was a decrease in numbers of allegations made in comparison to the same period a year earlier. The board received 64 allegations against priests from dioceses and 100 against priests and religious from religious congregations. The board said it was satisfied that all allegations and concerns had been shared with law enforcement authorities.
However, the report noted that "the history of the Church not notifying the civil authorities could mean that there is now significant over-reporting."
The safeguarding board also found that there had been an inconsistent response to complaints.
"There are examples of very good, caring pastoral responses in many dioceses and orders, while in others the response, in the assessment of the reviewers, has unfortunately compounded the impact of the initial abuse."
The vast majority of allegations relate to the period from 1940 to the late 1990s. The board said "there is an opportunity now to reflect on why the risks were so great during the decades cited."
Overall, the national board said that "there is no doubt that there has been a significant shift in attitude and behavior in relation to the prevention of child abuse and in dealing with allegations with the Catholic Church." However, the body warned "there is still much to be done, and the good work needs to continue."
The report comes as Irishwoman Marie Collins, a survivor of clerical abuse and advocate for victims, was participating in the first meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Chaired by Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley and meeting in the Vatican until Saturday, the commission is charged with advising Pope Francis on how the church should continue to address the issue of clerical abuse and the needs of survivors.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Collins, who was appointed to be a member of the eight-person commission in March, said she would speak frankly on the need for constant vigilance.
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