The Irish Missionary Union (IMU) is understood to have hired several public relations experts, including Terry Prone, to manage the fallout from an RTE Prime Time documentary, screened this week, about allegations of sexual abuse by Irish priests in Africa.
The IMU was ‘‘preparing members [religious congregations]” for the exposé of alleged sex abuse, according to an IMU document to be published this week.
The IMU’s strategy document for 2011 to 2014was circulated to the orders last week ahead of its publication.
Part of the strategy is an attempt to ‘‘create opportunities for voices – lay, religious and missionaries – to be heard’’ as part of the debate on clerical sex abuse by overseas missionaries, while also hosting a ‘‘workshop with members to deal with fallout’’, according to the document. The IMU strategy goes on to highlight the importance of developing a ‘‘support system for those fronting the issue’’ in broadcast and print media.
The document also reveals a range of concerns which members of the religious orders have identified in their ministry and in the public perception of their work, after taking part in various internal focus groups.
Members identified the obstacles facing the religious orders as a ‘‘fear of losing power [and] status’’ and a ‘‘fear of change’’ in some sections of the congregations.
They also identified what they described as a ‘‘lack of confidence in our own identity’’.
Some congregations had been resistant to developing closer dependence on other orders and within IMU structures because of a culture described as: ‘‘protecting our own patches’’.
The clerics were suffering from apathy and low morale and said that their energies had been ‘‘sapped by sexual abuse crises’’.
The IMU is also due to publish new figures this week showing that the number of Irish clerics serving overseas is at an all-time low, due to retirement and the elderly profile of missionaries.