Only around a third of Catholic bishops have met a HSE deadline for responses to its ongoing audit of child protection practices, and up to seven dioceses have failed to reply at all to its request for comprehensive additional information.
Despite repeated commitments from the hierarchy to cooperate with state authorities in the area of child protection, it is understood that only a small number of religious orders have responded to its request for information.
The HSE's recently appointed assistant national director for children and families, Phil Garland, has expressed concern that any of the bishops involved may have decided not to comply with the audit.
As part of its ongoing examination of the 24 southern dioceses, each bishop had until 8 January to send their responses by registered post directly to Garland's office. The closing date for receipt of replies from more than 140 religious orders was last Friday.
Among the additional information sought by Garland was a request for the name of each complainant and the person against whom each allegation was made, and details of any other allegations known to the diocese.
Significantly, this will then be verified against state records to ensure the accuracy of the information provided.
However, Garland confirmed that by last Friday – one week after the original deadline – his office had received just nine responses from the various dioceses.
He had received another eight requests for an extension to the deadline, and he granted an extension in each of these cases.
"That means there are seven left and I will be chasing those up next week," he told the Sunday Tribune. "I would be concerned if there was a decision taken not to comply with the audit. I need to seek clarification from the respective bishops. It may be that a response is in the system but the letter was quite clear that it should come to me by 8 January."
It is also understood that only a small number of responses from more than 140 religious orders had been received by Friday evening. Some 20 childcare managers around the country are examining the responses in detail to ensure they are complete, and will be following up with every diocese in the country in the coming weeks.
Garland declined to say at this stage which of the dioceses and religious orders involved have failed to respond to the audit.
However, he indicated that he will effectively "name and shame" those dioceses and religious orders that fail to respond in his forthcoming report to government, which is due to be completed next month.