Ian Elliott: independent review

Fr Bill Bermingham, the Cloyne child protection delegate who resigned his post amid controversy earlier this year, may have been correctly following the Catholic Church's own child protection guidelines when he showed details of sexual allegations to the alleged abuser, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

The revelation comes as the church prepares for the arrival of apostolic visitors to Ireland this month, and follows an independent review of the Bermingham case by the church-run National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC).

It has prompted renewed concerns among abuse survivors that the current guidelines may serve to undermine any possible garda investigation by effectively 'tipping off' accused priests to the substance of the allegations against them in advance of a formal garda interview.

According to the review's key findings, the "alleged offender should be given enough detail that would allow the church to take responsible and protective action to ensure child protection and welfare, while affording the alleged offender the opportunity to reply to the allegations".

Elsewhere, while it emphasised that church representatives should not act in isolation or independently of statutory agencies, the review said they are only required to "consult" with the likes of the HSE and the gardaí.

The review was undertaken by an external consultant on behalf of the NBSCCC, which is led by child protection expert Ian Elliott.

Bermingham had initially defended his decision to make unsigned notes of an interview with the female complainant available to the accused priest, saying he believed this was consistent with church and state guidelines in the area. But Archbishop Dermot Clifford, apostolic administrator in the Cloyne diocese, subsequently announced last June that Bermingham had resigned from his position.

An NBSCCC spokesman refused to say if Bermingham had correctly followed the guidelines, noting only that "what the review found was that it was possible to misinterpret the guidelines".