DUBLIN (AP) — Six Catholic dioceses in Ireland that shielded child-molesting priests from the law in the past have adopted policies that effectively protect children from sexual abuse today, the Irish church's own investigatory arm reported Wednesday.
The findings of the church's National Board for Safeguarding Children represented the start of a project to test whether the Irish church — long responsible for harboring pedophiles in the priesthood — is protecting children from sex predators today.
Bishops in the six dioceses welcomed the findings and expressed remorse for past concealment of crimes.
"We are truly sorry for the terrible deeds that have been inflicted on so many by a small minority of priests," said Bishop Philip Boyce of the northwest diocese of Raphoe. He conceded that he and other bishops had placed the needs of victims below "the misguided attempt to protect the reputation of the church."
Irish bishops created the board in 2008 to inspect the child-protection policies of every Catholic diocese and religious order in Ireland, and to recommend systems which ensure that suspected child abusers are reported to police and health authorities.
Those subject to Wednesday's reports — the Archdiocese of Tuam and the dioceses of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Derry, Dromore, Kilmore and Raphoe and Tuam scattered throughout north and west Ireland — all volunteered for scrutiny.
The board's chief executive, Ian Elliott, said examinations of their records showed that all had protected priests from potential prosecution since 1975 but in recent years have begun reporting such suspicions to Ireland's police and health authorities "promptly and comprehensively."
However in many cases, the investigators found, bishops still were not telling Vatican authorities. In 2001 the most powerful Vatican committee, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, instructed bishops worldwide to report any cases that contain "a semblance of truth" to the committee.
The report into Boyce's Raphoe diocese found that such cases were being referred to the Vatican only if the priest in question faced criminal prosecution or if the diocese wanted the priest to be defrocked, a sanction that requires Vatican approval.
Elliott said he hoped his investigators could examine the child-protection policies of all 188 dioceses, religious orders and other Catholic institutions in Ireland within the next two years. But he cautioned that the church had given him no power to compel cooperation and the handover of records, only to publicize "details of any noncooperation."
The board's first report, in December 2008 into the County Cork diocese of Cloyne, forced its bishop, former papal aide John Magee, to resign. It found he was ignoring and undermining the church's own crime-reporting policies as recently as 2007.
Safeguarding Children reports, http://bit.ly/tFijhE
Ireland's child protection policy, http://bit.ly/t1CVNR
Irish church's counseling service for victims, http://www.towardshealing.ie/