Over 250 people attended a Church conference on child protection hosted by Bishop Michael Smith in Trim on 14 October 2015.
The purpose of the conference was to outline how good child protection measures support the task of working with young people in parishes. The conference was attended by TUSLA social workers who assist the Church in its work.
A series of short presentations were given by four teenagers. Aideen Tansy-Moran (Delvin), Sean Savage (Drogheda), Alex McEvily and Ben Stuart (both from Mullingar) described their positive experiences of being part of their parishes. They thanked the priests and volunteers for making the Church a safe and caring place for young people.
Bishop Denis Brennan spoke about the transformation that has taken place in his Diocese of Ferns since the publication of the Ferns Report 10 years ago. The Ferns Report was critical of aspects of how the diocese handled complaints of abuse and, quoting specifically from the Report, Bishop Brennan said “with the benefit of hindsight it is possible to see that the Church authorities, the medical profession, and society generally, failed to appreciate the horrendous damage which the sexual abuse of children, can and does cause.’’
The Bishop said the Church rightly has a zero toleance approach to any manifestation of child abuse and that protocols are in place to prevent a recurrence of the suffering and scandal of the past. While these protocols sometimes give rise to fear on the part of volunteers and clergy working with children today, he emphasised that the Church is now in a better place to engage again with young people “and to close the gap that has opened up in recent years between adults and children. And this is why we must always be open to incorporating new insights into our pastoral and professional practice, always understanding that it remains a work in progress – and crucially – a Ministry for everyone”.
Peter Kieran is a member of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. He complimented Bishop Michael Smith and the priests and volunteers who attended the Conference. He emphasised that parents and children can have great confidence that their children are in a safe and caring place when they take part in Church activities because of the good standards and professionalism that is well established in the Diocese of Meath.
Aoife Walsh from the Diocese of Limerick re-inforced the Bishop’s point that good child protection helps priests and volunteers to overcome the fear which can be associated with youth ministry because of what happened in the past.
Every year we take 90 young people to Lourdes and it terrifies me! What if someone gets sick, what if someone starts acting out and causing trouble? What if someone tells me that they’ve been abused? What if I see one of my leaders behaving inappropriately? What if I get sick? What if? What if I gave in to that fear? Then 90 young people wouldn’t experience what Lourdes has to offer and 120 young people wouldn’t experience our Anois Programme and 100 more wouldn’t get to come to Kerry with us …
And that’s 300 young people who don’t get a positive faith experience, who maybe don’t ever know what communion and community really means, who don’t ever get to reach their full potential…
But thankfully I don’t have to give in to that fear because I have structures in place that allay my fears. If someone gets sick I have access to doctors and emergency numbers because my safeguarding policy demands it. If someone causes trouble I have an open and transparent disciplinary policy which means that everybody is treated the same way and parents are aware that it exits. If someone tells me that they’ve been abused I know what to do, I can offer reassurance, comfort and hope as well as hopefully being able to put them on the right road towards healing. If one of my leaders is acting inappropriately I have a Code of Behaviour, which they’ve signed up to and this gives me grounds to call them on their behaviour, to name it and take action. If I get sick I have a team of leaders who have the same training as me who can step into my role.
Pictured above from left: Nuala McLoughlin (Designated Liaison Person), Aoife Walsh, Bishop Michael Smith, Peter Kieran, Joan Walshe (Diocesan Safeguarding Children Committee) and Bishop Denis Brennan