Who Is Ian Elliot? (Or: The Mushroom)

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Image source: http://www.irishecho.com.au/tag/ian-elliott

Gail Furness, the Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, may have to watch out. The Catholic Church’s PR unit, charged with dealing with the fall-out from the Royal Commission, has called in the big guns in the form of one Mr. Ian Elliot (pictured above). That is, if said Mr. Elliot has learned his lesson not to be treated as a mushroom (i.e., kept in the dark and fed bulls**t).

Mr. Elliot, who has an administration qualification from the Open University in the U.K., was CEO of the Irish equivalent of the PR unit here, following the damning Ryan Report into clerical child sexual abuse in Ireland. Prior to his appointment to this “National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church”, or NBSCCC, in 2007, he was the director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Northern Ireland. The NBSCCC, though billed as “independent”, is in fact funded by the Conference of Irish Bishops, the Conference of Religious of Ireland, and the Irish Missionary Union.

Mr. Elliot, who is 65, has reached the mandatory retirement age for his current position with the NBSCCC and is due to leave this May and take up his position of advising the local PR unit. The “Irish Catholic” reported that “a lively internal debate has arisen regarding whether Elliot should be allowed to retire or offered an extended contract to continue”.  Mr. Elliot, who the “Irish Independent” newspaper refers to as “The Little Sheriff”, has said, concerning his secondment to the PR Unit, that “I don’t know how long that will be for. After that I’m coming back to set up an independent consultancy from the end of the [northern] summer, in this area of child safeguarding.”

Two years after Mr. Elliot’s appointment to the NBSCCC, an Irish government report, by Judge Yvonne Murphy and two other commissioners painted a damning picture of continuing problems with the Cloyne diocese in County Cork, involving 19 clerics. It is known either as the Cloyne Report or the Murphy Report. It noted that the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne was ignoring the church’s own guidelines on child protection as recently at 2009.

Recently, CEO Ian Elliot said it was gratifying to report “clear evidence of steady progress in developing robust safeguarding structures”. He noted that there was “significant improvement” on past performance. The Cloyne Report concluded that (bishops) Magee and O’Callaghan “positively mislead” Mr. Elliot. Further, it found that Bishop Magee “did not provide Elliot with all documentation in his possession”. As Fr. Kevin Hegarty observed in the Mayo News, that is “putting it rather kindly”.

There were renewed calls for Ireland to subject the entire Catholic Church to a statutory investigation when it was revealed that a “staggering 219 abuse complaints” had been withheld from Mr. Elliot’s NBSCCC between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011. Further, Bishops had used legal obstacles to impede Mr. Elliot despite asking him to conduct the audit of their dioceses.

When pressed, Mr. Elliot noted that it was difficult to break down “a culture of clericalism”. Although he had considered resigning, he did not do so “in the interests of children” and that “walking away does not solve the problem”. One in Four victims’ support group claimed that Mr Elliott’s team was “clearly being impeded by forces within the church in their monitoring”, and accused the church of consistently failing to reveal the full story of child sexual abuse until it was forced to do so.

Mr. Elliot even came under direct attack by Bishops. The Bishop of Down and Connor, Noel Treanor, lodged a complaint that Mr. Elliot “was briefing journalists against the Catholic Church hierarchy”. Mr.Treanor issued an apology only after an enquiry by Supreme Court Judge, Catherine McGuinness cleared Mr. Elliot of the allegations.

Even the government officials caused Elliot problems, according to him. He claimed, before the Cloyne Enquiry, that an official in the Office of the Minister for Children had asked that the damning report into the Cloyne diocese be “withdrawn and shredded” and replaced with “something softer”. Mr Elliott recalled that he “refused and expressed his anger at the suggestion.” The official in question denied the allegation and declared that Mr. Elliot’s interpretation was a “misunderstanding”.

Mr. Elliot may not have been kept so much in the dark after this. His organisation revealed that, in the 12 months to June 2012, it received 237 new abuse claims involving 196 priests and members of religious orders.

Despite these problems, Mr. Elliot’s reputation in Ireland appears to remain strong. The Irish Independent reports that “He is a man who can be trusted by church and state alike to put the safety of kids above individual reputations and the image of the church.”

[Postscript: Only 14% of Irish Catholics now attend mass. A survey of Irish Catholics by Amárach Research found that church teachings on sexuality had “no relevance” for 75 per cent of them, 87% believe priests should be allowed to marry and that 77% believe there should be women priests.]

Read more here:

TOMORROW: What does Mr. Elliot believe?

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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