For six years Ian Elliott was CEO of the Irish Catholic Church’s ‘National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Church’ (NBSCCC). During that time he was responsible for imposing accountability for child protection on all Irish dioceses and religious orders. A northern Presbyterian and a highly regarded child protection professional , he it was who masterminded the systems of child safeguarding now in place in most (if not all) parishes in Ireland – training the multitude of personnel who now allow the bishops of the Irish church to claim that ‘best practice’ is now in place.
However, now retired from that role, Elliott has alleged that over the past four years there has been a successive reduction in the budget of the NBSCCC. Saying this threatens the co-ordinated single national system of monitoring and inspection that he put in place, he writes as follows in the January 2014 issue of the Maynooth monthly, The Furrow:
“History has shown that the effective monitoring of practice within the Church requires independence, and adequate resources. I would argue that to site investment within individual Church authorities, and to starve the National Board of the support that it requires, is running the risk of a lapse back to poor risk management or possibly worse. I see no justification for it other than a desire to limit the role of the Board by covert means.”
“I would argue that there has to be investment in and support for a viable National Board at the centre of the Church. It has to have a level of resources to allow it to fulfil its remit. It also should be given the authority to examine practice where there is a concern that poor work has taken place. At present, it is forced to work on a consent basis alone. If it is not invited into a Church authority, it has no way of gaining entry. To be seen as a credible monitor, it has to be given the power to intervene where it believes circumstances warrant it.”
This is truly an alarming statement. Already, well informed Irish Catholics have deep misgivings about the lack of strong structures of accountability for their bishops, especially on this issue of child protection. What Elliott warns about is a weakening of the limited accountability system that he established for bishops and religious congregations in Ireland.
If the budget of the NBSCCC has indeed been reduced, year-on-year, over the past four years, why exactly is that? Our bishops need to know that this is no way of restoring the trust in their leadership that was so deeply damaged by their total failure to protect Irish Catholic children until the fact of clerical child abuse was brought into the public domain – by injured Catholic families – in 1994.
More than any other individual it was Ian Elliott who defused the anger of Irish Catholics over this issue, and restored a measure of trust in the present Irish church leadership. That trust could be irreparably damaged if Elliott’s warnings are now simply ignored.