An audit of how the Catholic order the Christian Brothers dealt with abuse allegations has found only 12 brothers were convicted of crimes between 1975 and today.
A review of the congregation’s files found that its initial response to the need to report abuse to the authorities was not systematic and was inadequate.
It revealed allegations were made against 325 brothers - only 50 of whom are still alive - with 870 complaints of abuse in the 38 year period, all of which have been reported to authorities.
The audit, carried out by the church’s own watchdog the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, is one of eight being released today.
The latest and largest tranche of reviews by the oversight body scrutinise both current practice in two religious orders and six dioceses and the handling of all allegations received since January 1975.
In the Christian Brothers, the inspection board said one brother was returned to ministry after an allegation and only 12 brothers were convicted of offences against children.
It described the level of abuse from members of the order as substantial.
And it warned: “The number of convictions by the courts, compared to the numbers accused of child abuse, is significantly small.”
In the 66 years between 1931 and 1997, the Christian Brothers received 92 allegations of abuse but in the subsequent 15 years, from 1998 to this year, they received 794 allegations.
Since internal reviews in 2007 and 2009, the safeguarding board said it is now satisfied that reports are made promptly.
The Christian Brothers said they accepted that a safeguarding deficit existed in the past.
“We want to learn from the mistakes of the past and to create a safe environment for all children and young adults,” it said.
In the Armagh Archdiocese, run by Cardinal Sean Brady, the audit warned that it found little information on the receipt and management of allegations before 1995.
It said there was “inconsistent filing leading to a lack of clarity about how decisions were made”.
The report found Cardinal Brady, on taking up his role as Primate of All-Ireland in 1996, made a “commendable decision to gather and document whatever information was available,” the review board found.
“However the reviewers cannot be confident that the records of allegations made prior to 1995 are complete. The reviewers looked at a small sample of documentation from this period.”
Sixteen priests in the archdiocese have faced 36 allegations and four of them are still in ministry, the audit found.
Only one priest has been convicted and the audit said no allegations have been made since 2000.
In Armagh the audit team found some case files with significant gaps but it also praised the Cardinal for adopting a more focused and committed approach to the safeguarding of children since he took over.
Cardinal Brady, who has been heavily criticised for swearing two victims of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth to secrecy during an internal church inquiry in 1975, said his first thoughts today are with abuse survivors.
“I know that for you, survivors of abuse and your families, days such as today are especially difficult. You have suffered terribly and I am truly sorry. I pray for you and will work to ensure that you are supported on your journey towards healing and peace,” he said.
He added: “I am reassured that safeguarding practice in the Archdiocese conforms to the highest national standards.
In the Diocese of Down and Connor, which includes Belfast and is the second largest in Ireland, the reviewers found 46 out of 48 criteria which make up the safeguarding standards had been met.
The two outstanding criteria refer to support for and monitoring of priests who have abused and a written plan of action on implementing and monitoring standards.
The report said 14 concerns or allegations raised since the appointment of Bishop Noel Treanor to the diocese in June 2008 had been properly managed. Of those 14, seven had insufficient evidence. Of the other seven, all are currently out of ministry, one is the subject of a criminal investigation and one is in prison.
There are 19 living priests of the Down and Connor Diocese who are subjects of child safeguarding concerns. Of these, seven were known about before Bishop Treanor was appointed.
Two of these seven men had further historical allegations made against them after June 2008; and a further 12 diocesan priests also had historical allegations made against them since that time.
The report recommended that the bishop, with the staff of the Safeguarding Office, analyse the results of a 2009 internal diocesan review of case management files to ensure that those living priests of the diocese of Down and Connor who need to be risk assessed because of child safeguarding concerns, have been so assessed and that written risk management plans have been developed and are being implemented.
The 33-page document, written by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, said the diocese considers that restrictions have been put on cases which are processed jointly with non-church authorities and that this has been communicated in writing to the priest in question.
In today’s report, the reviewers did not find written evidence of this in every case file that they examined.
In unrelated historical cases across Ireland priests were allowed to move around with few controls, despite high-level concerns about their behaviour.
The experts said a small amount of file documentation on canonical processes in pre-2008 cases was incomplete and advised that any missing documentation be searched for and appropriately inserted in the relevant files.
Their report made six recommendations including that the bishop initiates a process whereby the pre-2009 child safeguarding case management files that are still open are brought up to the highest possible standards.
:: That the bishop should request a training needs assessment of members of an advisory panel established to deal with safeguarding matters.
:: That the bishop brings all the priest advisers together on a regular basis to receive support in their role and to develop thinking and planning for the development of safeguarding work.
:: That the bishop requests the development of systems for the regular monitoring of compliance with all diocesan child safeguarding policy and procedures.
Bishop Treanor said: “The National Board review, published today, clearly illustrates ‘the very successful and effective investment of time and resources by the Diocese of Down and Connor in its child safeguarding services over the past five years’ and reports that the ‘review of the case material indicates that current practice places emphasis on a timely reporting of the concerning information to the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and to the relevant HSC (Health and Social Care) Trust’.”
He noted the report finds that all concerns/allegations reviewed have been properly managed by the diocese.
“My overriding concern as Bishop of Down and Connor is and will continue to be the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults in the diocese.
“In church and society the hurt and destruction wrought by the abuse of children and vulnerable adults continues to cry out for unflinching commitment to the pursuit of safeguarding and the growth of a culture of vigilance,” he added.