Belfast Telegraph

Deep concerns at handling of clerical abuse case were cut out of church report: author

By Shane Phelan

The former head of the Catholic Church's child safety watchdog has revealed that serious concerns he had about the handling of an abuse case in Northern Ireland were omitted from an official report.

Ian Elliott alleges that the Diocese of Down and Connor blocked the release of information it held about its handling of the case of ex-priest Jim Donaghy, who was jailed for 10 years in 2012 for abusing two altar boys and a trainee priest.

Mr Elliott investigated the diocese last May, a month before his retirement from the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.

The report on the diocese that was subsequently published by the safeguarding board last December, did not refer to his concerns, and gave the diocese a clean bill of health.

The Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor, declined to answer questions about the "contents and integrity" of the report, saying it was a matter for the safeguarding board.

In a statement, he said the diocese was "fully open" and "transparent" in its dealings with the board. Mr Elliott said the report that was published did "not accurately reflect the child protection situation" in Down and Connor.

He said he tried to investigate the Donaghy case last year, but was blocked by the diocese from doing so on the grounds that there was no basis for a review.

However, he later uncovered records that indicated to him an investigation of the handling of the Donaghy case was necessary.

"What was known to the diocese wasn't shared with us," Mr Elliott said.

Last night the National Board for Safeguarding Children issued a statement and said that it "rejects any implication that any external pressure was brought to bear on the authors of the report.

It added: "The allegations made by Ian Elliot appear to question the professionalism and integrity of our board, our CEO and our staff.

"Consequently, we are seeking legal advice regarding our options and will make no further comment at this time".

Mr Elliott has previously clashed with Dr Treanor, who accused him of spinning against the church in media briefings.

An inquiry led by a retired Supreme Court judge in the Republic found there was no basis for this claim.

Mr Elliott conducted "field work" in the diocese – the second largest in Ireland in terms of population, covering Antrim, Down and parts of Derry – last May.

"I was directly involved in this investigation, so I know exactly what the findings were," he said.

"The report was issued in December of last year, after my departure.

"The concerns that I raised with the (Irish) minister were that the report does not equate with the findings of the field work.

"It was attributed by the bishop as coming from me, but nothing could be further from the truth.

"This is not my report. These are not my findings and this is not what has resulted from the field work that I was involved in."

Mr Elliott contacted the safeguarding board seeking an explanation, but said none was forthcoming.

Before his retirement, Mr Elliott said he held face-to-face meetings with Dr Treanor and the chairman of the safeguarding board, John Morgan. "They are both intimately aware what the concerns were and they are not reflected in the report," he said.

Mr Elliott said that what emerged after his retirement was "a very positive report". The former watchdog also questioned why it took so long for the report to be published.

It was usual practice, he said, for a diocese to be presented with a draft report by the safeguarding board, so that any factual inaccuracies could be corrected.

In the normal course of events, the draft report must be returned within 10 days.

"I left in June. It was published in December. What happened in the interim?" he said.

The report published on Down and Connor found that the diocese had met 46 out of 48 of its child protection objectives and properly managed all of the incidents of child welfare concerns that had come to it in recent years.

Mr Elliott said he could not go into the specific detail of what he found in relation to the Donaghy case. "My motivation throughout has always been to achieve effective and comprehensive safeguarding of children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. That remains my motivation," he said.

Donaghy, a 55-year-old former priest who was based in Co Down, was jailed in 2012 for offences in the 1980s, including the abuse of a trainee priest in Co Wexford.

He was described in court as a "sexual predator".

Investigator who clashed with church hierarchy

Presbyterian Ian Elliott was the Catholic Church's child protection watchdog for six years until he stepped down from the role in 2013.

Prior to taking the job he had been the lead advisor on child protection for Northern Ireland's Social Services Inspectorate, and also worked as divisional director of the NSPCC.

During his time with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, Mr Elliott (66) wrote several hard-hitting reports and came into conflict with a number of senior clerics.

The board was set up in 2007 by a number of Catholic organisations to offer advice on best practice in safeguarding children, assist in the development of procedures, and to monitor ongoing safeguarding practices.

A major part of its work was auditing dioceses and religious organisations. So far it has completed reviews of 22 of the 26 dioceses and seven of the major religious orders.

Mr Elliott was highly respected for his work and had no hesitation in highlighting those who would not co-operate with him.

It was his report on the Diocese of Cloyne which sparked the resignation of its bishop, Dr John Magee, who had served as private secretary to three popes.

Mr Elliott disclosed how the board encountered resistance in accessing child protection files in the diocese.

This prompted a commission of investigation report into Cloyne which found child protection practices were inadequate and dangerous.

More recently, Mr Elliott highlighted serious failures by two religious orders, the Christian Brothers and the Kiltegan Fathers, who failed to deal with cases of abuse over four decades.

Mr Elliott also clashed with the Bishop of Down and Connor, Noel Treanor, who accused him of spinning against the church in media briefings.

Retired Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness was asked by church authorities to conduct an investigation into the bishop's allegations in 2012.

The judge concluded there was no basis for the complaint.

Since his retirement last June, Mr Elliott has been critical of cuts to the funding of the national board, accusing religious bodies of using "covert means" to limit its investigations.

The safeguarding board is funded by the Irish Bishops Conference, the Conference of Religious in Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union.

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