Monsignor Eamon Martin, Diocesan Administrator, responds to the Review of Safeguarding in the Diocese of Derry

30 Nov 2011

Monsignor Eamon Martin, Diocesan Administrator, responds to the Review of Safeguarding in the Diocese of Derry

Speaking Notes of Monsignor Eamon Martin, Diocesan Administrator, Diocese of Derry at the publication of the Review of Safeguarding Practice in the Diocese of Derry carried out by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church on Wednesday 30 November 2011

On behalf of the Diocese of Derry I want to thank Mr Ian Elliott and the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church for conducting a thorough Review of Safeguarding Practice in the Diocese of Derry and for presenting this report and its recommendations to us.

From the outset, the Diocese of Derry has welcomed this review process as an opportunity to demonstrate openness and accountability and our sincere commitment to best practice in safeguarding children and young people. For some time now the diocese has had clear written policies and procedures for safeguarding. But words on a page do not protect children. We requested Mr Elliott and his team to carry out this Review so that an independent team of experts could test if what we say we are doing is actually happening in practice. We gave full access to all case records and files so that we could confront any poor practice, historical or present, in order to learn lessons about how to better protect children in the future. I accept this report on behalf of the diocese. We pledge to study it carefully and act upon the recommendations it contains. It is our hope that the Review will represent a significant step for the Diocese of Derry along the path of healing and renewal.

I was appointed Diocesan Administrator five days ago. This is my first public message, and I offer it to those who have suffered abuse at the hands of members of the Church. ‘Today will be yet another painful day for you. No matter how positive this report may be about current practice, nothing can take away the awful wrong that was done to you. It is understandable if you cannot accept that the Church is at last serious about this issue. You trusted members of the Church before and you had that trust terribly betrayed. Your dignity was violated. Your self-esteem and self-belief was battered. Your spirit was crushed. The terrible things that happened to you can leave a wound and scar that doesn’t go away. When some of you got the courage to tell your story, no one really listened or took you seriously. I am truly sorry at what happened to you and ashamed at the way you were treated. I pray that the Lord Jesus, who himself was betrayed and broken, will heal you and bring hope and love and peace back into your life. I will do everything that I can, with the help of the good people of our diocese, to ensure that the welfare of children and young people is paramount and that the terrible things which happened to you will not recur’.

This Review confirms that when people come forward today, and find the courage to tell their story, they are listened to, heard, and action is taken. Sadly for some survivors, this improvement has come far too late. But I am encouraged that Mr Elliott and his team verify that all allegations of abuse in this diocese are being handled correctly in line with civil requirements and Church guidelines and that there is full, professional cooperation with the police and statutory authorities, north and south. The Review strongly endorses our current diocesan policies and procedures as consistent with national guidance and conforming to the highest standards. The Review team is impressed that the safeguarding message is being widely disseminated and promoted in our parishes.

For all this, I am very grateful to our Designated Persons, Trainers, our excellent Safeguarding Committee and the many committed lay representatives and clergy who are doing tremendous work in promoting a safe and nurturing environment at parish level. They are making our code of conduct widely known, ensuring the vetting of all volunteers, priests, bishops and other staff, as well as continually monitoring and reviewing all our procedures. To the hundreds of committed men and women who are working in the Diocese of Derry for the safeguarding of children and young people, I say ‘thank you’. Today’s Report recognises your dedication and confirms that it is bearing fruit in a safer environment for all our young people.

Whilst it is encouraging to read the Review’s positive and constructive comments about current practice in Derry diocese, it is disturbing to study its conclusions that historical practice in this diocese was weak and uncoordinated, and that decisions were taken to protect the institution of the Church rather than children. In examining historical case files the National Board Review Team points to poor practice, stating that the avoidance of scandal, the preservation of the reputations of individuals and of the Church, sometimes took precedence over the safety and welfare of children. This has disgraced us. As I begin my task as Diocesan Administrator this week, these deficits and weaknesses in historical practice provide a salutary lesson, for me and for all of us entrusted with safeguarding. There can be no going back to a time when the welfare of children and young people was not paramount.

We have published the Review Report on our website today. I encourage you all to read it. We have also published contact details of our Designated Persons, the ‘Towards Healing’ * Counselling and Support Helpline and other support services. I encourage anyone who has been affected by abuse in their life to come forward and seek help.

Almost twenty five years ago I was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Derry. I know that because of my own weakness and sinfulness I have not always been the kind of priest I’d like to be, but priesthood is still very special to me. Like my fellow priests, I have been sustained in my commitment by the support and prayers of so many faithful Catholics, and the love and sacrifices made for me by my family and dear friends. I am saddened that many good Catholics feel they have been let down so badly over the issue of abuse and that some have even stopped practising their faith. I love God and I love the Church that I serve. I believe that faith in Jesus Christ brings meaning and purpose to our lives and gives hope, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation to anyone who feels lost, broken or in despair. My parents wanted to pass on the Gospel of Christ to their children and grandchildren because they believed it was a precious treasure that is worth sharing. For too long the dark shadow of abuse and the failures in handling it have obscured the light of that Gospel in Ireland. That is why we must all redouble our efforts to ensure that young people are always protected, respected and nurtured.