Bishops welcome RCSI report into child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy

04 Dec 2003





The Irish Bishops’ Conference (IBC) commissioned research, Time to Listen, Confronting
Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy in Ireland
, which was undertaken by members of
the Health Services Research Centre at the Department of Psychology of the Royal College
of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), was published today in the RCSI.

The IBC commissioned the research in 2001 and intends now to study its findings in detail
and to be guided by its conclusions and informed by its recommendations. This report is
the first occasion internationally that the Catholic Church has commissioned an independent
study into the impact of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

On behalf of the IBC, Bishop John McAreavey welcomed the report saying, “This empirical
research measures, for the first time, an overview of the impact of clerical child sexual
abuse in Ireland on the abused, the abusers and Church personnel. We welcome all the
report’s recommendations, over half of which have already been implemented.

“The issues we have been coming to terms with anecdotally over the last number of years
have now been scientifically detailed in this report. Notwithstanding the report’s
acknowledgment that when dealing with abusers in the past, bishops followed – in good
faith – the best psychiatric advice available at the time, clearly in relation to
clerical sexual abuse we failed many young people over too long a period.

“For what has happened we are truly sorry and while we cannot undo the wrongs of the
past, we can use this research to help us deal with victims of abuse with understanding,
compassion and sensitivity. In the light of the report’s recommendations, we are
committed to improving upon our existing policies and the processes which currently
operate to deal with this issue.”

Bishop McAreavey concluded, “I wish to thank the team at the RCSI for completing this
comprehensive and independent report. I also wish to recognise the work of the Church’s
research sub-committee of the Child Protection Policy Group, which tirelessly
facilitated the efforts of the authors over the last two years.”

The details of the report were presented today by authors Professor Hannah McGee,
Professor Ciarán O’Boyle and Ms Helen Goode of the RCSI. In commenting upon their
research, Professor McGee said, “The occurrence, and more importantly the mismanagement,
of clerical child sexual abuse represents a loss throughout Irish society rather than
an isolated problem for an unfortunate few.”

Professor McGee continued, “Truly effective management by the Church is absolutely
necessary. The path to restoration of confidence has to be a systematic and transparent
one. It is by necessity going to be a slow process where trust, to be reinstated, will
have to be earned.”





The study examined the psychological and social impact of child sexual abuse by
Catholic clergy, the impact on faith and the experience of disclosure and how
disclosure was managed by Church authorities. Some 1280 people contributed to
the study – over 1000 members of the public were researched and over 50 face-to
-face interviews with individuals that suffered child sexual abuse by members
of the clergy, abusers, and families and colleagues of both abused and abusers.
Over 100 members of Diocesan management teams and some 80% of the members of
the Irish Episcopal Conference were also surveyed for the study.

The report makes 19 specific recommendations addressing prevention of child
sexual abuse by Church personnel; management of complaints of sexual abuse
by clergy; and, the professional development of clergy. The IBC will examine
the detailed findings, be guided by the conclusions and be informed by the
recommendations. This will allow the Conference adapt and develop its strategy
for implementation through the Child Protection Policy Group.


* Awareness among the general public and the clergy regarding the level and
incidence of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy was obtained through the
* The public overestimated the proportion of clerical child sex abuse and
underestimated the number of clergy convicted of child sexual abuse.
* Those abused and their families reported a lack of awareness of the effect
of child sexual abuse by the Church and that the handling of complaints often
lacked compassion with difficulties in getting information, accessing people
and a view that legal concerns took precedence over a pastoral response
* Persistent psychological effects of those abused were reported and disclosure
was described as an ongoing process rather than a once off event.
* Confidence in the Church declined among those abused and in their families
but this was attributed more to the response to the disclosure than to the
abuse itself.
* Colleagues of convicted clergy felt shamed and a loss of public credibility
and felt they were not provided with information, guidance or support by Church
leaders – this led to a loss of confidence in Church leadership.
* 93% of the public believe in God and 72% believe priests had been unfairly
judged as a result of clerical child sexual abuse. While the quality of today’s
Church was judged to be better than the past by 39% and worse by 16%, overall
satisfaction with the Church at 44% was below satisfaction with individual
priests at 54%.
* 70% of the Irish public saw the abuser as responsible for the occurrence of
abuse while 39% saw the Church hierarchy responsible for managing the issue –
41% felt it was the civil authorities’ responsibility for managing the issue.
* 77% of the public felt that the Church had not dealt with the problem
adequately and there was low public awareness of any of the actions taken
by the Church in recent years to address the issue of child sexual abuse by
* Clergy described the strategy adopted by the Church in relation to child
sexual abuse as an attempt to prevent scandal and protect the Church as an
institution. Some senior Church officials reported being poorly advised by
legal and mental health professionals.
* Poor communication, role conflict, lack of procedures, unfamiliarity with
the issue and ineffective leadership contributed to ineffective management
of the issue according to clergy surveyed.


The authors are attached to the Health Services Research Centre at the Department
of Psychology of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Hannah McGee, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Health Services
Research Centre of the Department of Psychology.
Ciarán O’Boyle, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Chairman of Psychology;
Helen Goode, MSc is Research Co-ordinator for the clerical sexual abuse study.

In 2001 the Child Protection Office was established by the IBC. The office is
overseen by the Committee on Child Protection and is chaired by Mr John Morgan.
A research subcommittee was established when the RCSI report was commissioned
in order to liaise with the research team and provide advice, as required, on
church structures.

For further information please contact:

* Catholic Communications Office:
Martin Long 086 1727 678 and Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797.
* Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland:
Professor Hannah McGee 402 2418 and Helen Goode 402 2480.

4th December 2003