BY CIAN MOLLOY
THE IRISH bishops face a national audit by government agents into how each diocese is complying with child protection guidelines published by the Church nearly 10 years ago.
News of the audit came shortly after publication of a report criticising Church and government officials over their handling of cases of priestly sexual abuse of children in the Ferns diocese.
The bishops held a special meeting at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, to discuss child protection issues following their receipt of a letter from Brian Lenihan, Minister for Children.
The Minister offered a number of proposals regarding the audit to the bishops, who said they would respond “rapidly and positively”.
Martin Long, bishops’ communications director, said he could not give details of the government proposals, but following the publication of the Ferns Report, Mr Lenihan said he hoped to establish a national audit as to how guidelines contained in Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response, published by the bishops in 1996, are being followed.
Since publication of the Ferns Report dozens more allegations of abuse have been confirmed by the bishops.
The government already announced it will conduct an inquiry into the handling of clerical sex abuse complaints in the Dublin archdiocese; the Irish Parliament will determine the extent of the inquiry before Christmas.
Before issuing the Ferns Report, retired Supreme Court Judge Frank Murphy investigated the handling of allegations of clerical child sex abuse in the Ferns diocese in the last four decades.
His report criticised the last two bishops of Ferns for inaction in dealing with clerical child sex abuse. It said Bishop Donal Herlihy, who served as bishop from 1964 until his death in 1983, regarded clerical sex abuse of children as a moral problem and did not appreciate its “psychological significance” until his later years.
It said his successor, Bishop Brendan Comiskey, who resigned in April 2002 over allegations that he failed to protect children, believed that canon law prevented him from removing priests.
Dublin Auxiliary Bishop Eamonn Walsh, apostolic administrator of Ferns, said he accepted the findings of the inquiry.
“The report is a sober reminder to me and to the priests of the Diocese of Ferns of the depth of damage that has been done to those who were abused by priests,” he said. “There are no excuses.”