31 OCTOBER 2005
STATEMENT OF BISHOP MICHAEL SMITH IN RESPONSE
TO THE PUBLICATION OF THE FERNS REPORT
The publication of the Ferns Report earlier this week makes sad and
distressing reading for all of us, not least for bishops and priests.
The Report details enormous pain and hurt caused by the sinful and
criminal acts of priests. Words of apology are very inadequate in
responding. We must humbly acknowledge that serious harm was done,
leading to severe hurt and suffering being caused to so many.
The betrayal by some of the sacred trust placed in every priest damages
the relationship between all priests and the people they seek to serve.
It is a reminder to us that the call to live lives of fidelity and
faithfulness to the Gospel is a constant challenge. The possibility
of failing in living up to this call is an ever-present reality in all
I pray for all who have suffered, especially those whose lives have been
scared by the sinful and criminal acts of priests. Our prayer is made
in hope, remembering the invitation of Jesus – ‘come to me all you who
labour and are over-burdened and I will give you rest’.
Over the past decade, the Church has sought to confront this evil in
its midst. Many of the recommendations in the Report have already been
put in place. As the Report itself says, “the Inquiry is satisfied that
the current practice in the Diocese of Ferns operates to a very high
level of child protection”. All of us share with the Inquiry the regret
that this satisfactory position was not achieved at an earlier stage.
In the Diocese of Meath, the current child protection measures in reflect
the standard guidelines Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response
agreed nationally in 1996. These guidelines are in line with the health
authority’s publication Children First.
No priest of the Diocese of Meath has been convicted in the courts of
child sexual abuse.
Since becoming bishop in January 1984, I have received three allegations
against priests of the diocese in active ministry and these have been
brought to the attention of An Garda Síochána for investigation.
A new version of the 1996 guidelines has been drawn up and, upon final
approval, it will be implemented in full in this diocese. The implementation
of this new document (Our Children, Our Church) and the recommendations
of the Ferns Report are welcome developments, as they will help us to make
child protection the priority it always should be. In light of these
developments, this diocese will review and assess all allegations,
including those received in the past.