Ten Years On from The Ferns Report

The Ferns Report was published on 25 October 2005. Ten years later, Bishop Denis Brennan looks back at its publication and what has changed in the diocese in the time since its publication   The Ferns Inquiry began in 2002 and lasted three and a half years, being published on 25 October 2005. The extent and depravity of the abuse perpetuated by some clergy, as revealed in the Report, shocked us all to our core. It was a traumatic time for all involved, but especially for the survivors of abuse and their loved ones. As the inquiry unfolded, survivors had to relive the abuse again, often in a public way. It was hurtful for their families too, who were sometimes realising what had happened to their loved one for the first time.

The publication of the report was a cathartic moment for the diocese. A mixture of emotions was experienced: failure, betrayal, shame, contrition, embarrassment, demoralisation, frustration, anger and confusion.

As the first State inquiry into a Catholic diocese, it was conducted in the glare of intense media scrutiny, the publicity culminated in Ferns being described by the press as ‘the most evil diocese in the world.’

At that stage we realised that we had a choice. We could either wallow in self-pity, or we could continue to confront the situation we found ourselves in, respond to the challenge and engage with the difficult issues facing us in an honest and transparent way.

This is what we set about doing, realising that this is what our position in the Christian family demands and it was nothing less than what the survivors deserve.

In the wake of the Report’s findings, building on the already pioneering work of Bishop Éamonn Walsh and his team in Ferns, three things had to be done:

  1. We needed to remain available to support survivors.
  2. The demands of justice needed to be met.
  3. Ever more refined child protection measures had to be put in place to prevent – in so far as is humanly possible – the future abuse of children.

The publication of The Ferns Report in 2005 was a defining moment. It reinforced for us that child safeguarding must remain a priority for the diocese. To continue to make this a reality on the ground over the past ten years, systems have been put in place, people have been trained and mindsets have been changed.

In short:

  1. An outreach service to survivors and their families exists.
  2. All allegations, concerns and information continue to be shared with the Diocesan Advisory Panel, the Inter Agency grouping (Gardaí and Tusla), civil authorities, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Holy See (where required) and all recommendations and directives have been implemented.
  3. The diocese remains available to ongoing audit and evaluation and commits itself to ever better policy and practice.
  4. Each parish and curacy has a designated representative who has received training and ongoing support.
  5. The issue of safeguarding remains the single focus of a weekly meeting at the Diocesan Offices.

Since 2005, the Diocese of Ferns’ child safeguarding practice has been independently reviewed at different times by the National Board and also by the Health Service Executive. Whilst accountability is our watchword, our Mission Statement in the area of Child Safeguarding acknowledges that, while we cannot change the past in Ferns, we are determined to change the future.

Nowadays standards/guidelines in the area of child safeguarding are well developed. The words of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado come to mind in this regard … ‘for those who walk there is no road, the road is made by walking’.

We have been on that road for many years now, the road of humility, healing, listening and learning. I believe that on the tenth anniversary of the Ferns Report our diocese is a safer place for our children and young people.

Child safeguarding is by its nature an ongoing business and we must always be open to incorporating new insights into our pastoral and professional practice, always understanding that it remains a work in progress.

The last lines of Machado’s poem capture the need to remain open to new developments in the evolving and multi-layered business that is child safeguarding.

‘Traveller, there is no path. By walking you make a path. And turning, you look back at a way you will never tread again. Traveller, there is no road. Only wakes in the sea.’


+Denis Brennan  Bishop of Ferns