Church Collusion in Calumny
In a recent post about the controversy concerning Maynooth, a controversy that appears to have been fuelled chiefly by anonymous allegations, Joe O Leary stated;
“should anonymous allegations — poison-pen letters — not be thrown into the fire? Why do church authorities have no scruples about colluding in calumny and detraction by taking these allegations so seriously?”
Tim Hazelwood has in the past outlined his own long and lonely battle to clear his name following anonymous, false, and malicious allegations against him.
Tim raises the question again if some official church policies are if fact colluding in the grave sin of calumny.
Tim writes as follows;
Finally a straight answer…..but what are the implications?
In May of this year I was successful in securing an apology and an admission that what was claimed about me was false, i.e., that I was an abuser. This followed a High Court action taken on my behalf against my accuser. The action was settled before it went to trial. My accuser never came forward but remained anonymous.
I am thankful that this episode is over but I am left with many questions and very few answers. One of my main queries around the way my case was handled by the Church was:
Why was my name passed on to the Gardai and the HSE when it was an anonymous allegation?
And following on from that:
What is the official Church policy concerning anonymous allegations?
On three occasions over the past number of years I have spoken to people in the National Board for Child Protection, the people responsible for formulating and seeing that the policies are implemented. On each occasion I failed to secure a tangible answer. All I got was vagueness.
That all changed a few weeks back during a meeting I held with the acting child protection officer and his deputy in my own diocese in Cloyne. I was informed that the policy is to inform the relevant authorities following an anonymous allegation against a priest. There it was at last in no uncertain terms. No ambiguity this time.
But what about natural justice and what of about Canon Law. Canon 220 states: “No one is permitted to harm illegitimately the good reputation which a person possesses or to injure the rights of the person to protect his or her own privacy”
My own experience was that my good name and reputation was disregarded. When I attempted to prove my innocence I received no help but was met with bullying behaviour and my attempts to help myself was blocked in every way by the diocese.
The implications for all ordained ministers are frightening. We are at the mercy of those with personal agendas or issues with individual priests.
And what of our permanent Deacons? They come under the same umbrella. What are the implication for them and their jobs should a false allegation be made against them. Some I know work with children and vulnerable adults. Will the church financially support them should this happen? Will they be helped clear their names? Have the deacons and their wives been informed of this policy. Unlikely I suggest. If my experience is anything to go by they have much to fear.
Diocese of Cloyne.
It’s difficult to understand how church authorities show such a lack of pastoral care. While the desire to provide maximum protection for vulnerable people is admirable, there seems little recognition of the vulnerability of priests. One priest, who was falsely acccused and eventually shown to be innocent, remarked that he would prefer to have been accused of murder.
Perhaps there is also an unacknowledged fear among the hierarchy of being found to fail, and so an inclination to self-protection.
To some extent, it may be a repetition of the response of the hierarchy to the Murphy Report on Dublin diocese. It was right to acknowledge the apalling abuse, and to acknlowledge that handling of allegations by church authorities failed to address the matter effectively. But there was no attempt to point out the historical and social history of the times by the Murphy Commission – the Commission rejected out of hand the claim of being on a learning curve, and the hierarchy as a body seemed to simply accept the Report in toto. The result was the unwarranted destruction of the reputations of a number of people who were involved in handling allegations according to the knowledge and understanding of the time.
I tried to supply some of the social history in my book, The Unheard Story. It was not just church authorities which did not have the understanding and knowledge at the time – it was the same in our society. In fact, in many ways how church authorities handled allegations was in advance of State authorities at the time, in attempting to provide treatment to prevent abusers from continuing to abuse. The Irish penal system had no treatment for sex offenders until 1994.
In the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, currently sitting, there has been progress along the learning curve, in that a central pillar of the investigation is the social history of the matter, with a specialist in this area as a member of the Commission.
Many thanks to Tim Hazelwood for sharing his painful experience with us; also to Padraig McCarthy for his calm and measured comments on how our bishops responded to the Murphy report.
I should like to know if it is still the bishops’ policy (as appears to have been admitted to Fr Hazelwood) “to inform the relevant authorities following an anonymous allegation against a priest.” I hope it is not; but if it is so, it would appear to be an urgent item for discussion between our ACP and the bishops.
If an “anonymous allegation” is made against a priest, do the persons to whom the allegation is brought not need to have have any idea who is making the allegation? … Are they not required to seek to make contact with persons making such an accusation, to check their bona fides?… Is there no attempt made to verify if the allegation is supported by any kind of evidence, before informing the relevant authorities? In this situation the vulnerability of any priest to slander or malicious accusation would be a great affront to his human rights and dignity.
I had thought, perhaps naively, that after their initial total cave-in to media pressure following the Murphy Report, our bishops had introduced some serious “prima-facie” investigatory process to test the plausibility of an allegation, before taking action against the priest in question. When I was ordained a priest (1966, by Dr. John Charles McQuaid), I had no inkling that such a gap on a human-rights issue might grow between our bishops and those who serve under them in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
#1 The career-specific claimed role of Catholic clergy has always been moral and spiritual leadership, associated especially with expertise in sexual morality. To argue therefore that Catholic clergy in administrative roles relating to clerical sexual abuse should not have been expected to be in advance of, and therefore leading and reshaping, the social mores of the day, and can therefore be excused for waiting for everyone else to lead, is entirely specious and self-serving.
That argument could surely justify Italian clergy, for example, in never confronting the Mafia.
Is the ACP now declaring that moral leadership – especially in the area of sexuality – should not be expected of Catholic clergy? Is that the essential ACP ‘teaching’ here? I can discern no other in Padraig McCarthy’s persistent argument.
#3 Sean O’Conaill:
I confess I do not understand these arguments. None of what is presented here is either stated or implied by what I wrote. These arguments seem to lack logic.
In the letter, Tim writes of a failure of justice and due process in the church in the case of an allegation of child sexual abuse. To point this out is not in any sense a denial of the reality of abuse. It is to say that true pastoral care and leadership in this matter as in others must extend both to vulnerable people and to those who are the object of the allegations.
In my comment I wanted to point to some elements which need attention if we are to arrive at the pastoral care required.
#4 I was referring, quite obviously, to your 3rd and 4th paragraphs in #1 – the reprised ‘learning curve’ exoneration of those Dublin diocesan administrators criticised in the Murphy Report.
Why exactly is it that when I express the expectation that those who claimed a role of moral leadership, who also had most knowledge of the incidence of the crime of clerical child abuse should also therefore have known most about its effects – and acted decisively to stop it BEFORE the secular state did so – you express bafflement?
Why can’t you see that you are arguing that it was up to the secular world to teach basic Christianity to Catholic clergy – not vice versa?
In countenancing anonymous accusations the bishops have brought on themselves a deluge of such allegations from poisonous bloggers. Happily the abuse of minors has not been a theme. Rather the frenzy now is about the supposed personal life of gay clergy. The bloggers seem to show a Schindler’s List level of contempt for the Human dignity of their targets. I suggest that it would be a service to society to fund legal action against such systematic defamation and hate speech.
#5 Sean O’~Conaill:
1: The learning curve does not exonerate. It places the actions of the time in the context of the time. To deny that there was, and is, a learning curve is to deny historical fact.
2: When you “express the expectation that those who claimed a role of moral leadership, who also had most knowledge of the incidence of the crime of clerical child abuse should also therefore have known most about its effects – and acted decisively to stop it BEFORE the secular state did so”, you are surprised that I “express bafflement.”
The kind of situation you describe is not factual. The kind of knowledge that we have today, which is still growing, is part of the interface between church and world.The church is in the world; members of the church are in that world. The church is not an institution independent of the world. Christians learn along with and from the world around them, as we hope that the world learns from Christians. The kind of church you seem to describe seems almost a gnostic group, not the reality.
3: “Why can’t you see that you are arguing that it was up to the secular world to teach basic Christianity to Catholic clergy – not vice versa?”
That is not what I argue. You are setting up an evidently ridiculous case in order to demolish it as if it were my position. Christians learn along with the world around us about many aspects of our lives, and church teaching develops in the light of that learning. Being a Christian is living an incarnational faith. It is not that the secular world is expected to teach basic Christianity to the church, but that secular learning in many areas provides the context of church teaching. Developing understanding of the effects of child sexual abuse, as in other matters, in both the secular world and in the church go hand in hand, and they enrich one another.
So, Padraig, here we go again. I never cease to be completely baffled by your “learning curve” excuse. How can you possibly contend that mature, even reasonably intelligent adults could not discern immediately that the sexual abuse of innocent, defenseless children, which often involved penetrative abuse, was not just a serious sin but also an appalling crime? And then, have the necessary wherewithal to take the appropriate action to prevent further crimes of this nature. Or, perhaps my thinking is also lacking some kind of logic.
I also want to say that I would agree completely that the treatment of TIm Hazelwood was unacceptable and grossly unfair to him. Reporting anybody to the Gaurds/police on the basis of anonymous allegations would not appear to me to be in the best interests of natural justice.
I can find no way to prevent continuing misinterpretations of my comments above.
It seems best to leave aside any further discussion of my remarks which were intended to provide some background to Tim Hazelwood’s original letter, since that discussion has now diverged from the content of his letter which deserves better.
Our understanding of the host of issues now lumped under the rubric of “child abuse” is indeed developing. What today would be abhorred as physical cruelty was accepted and popular in the 1960s and 17 yrs were not seen as incapable of being consenting adults. Moreover current opinion, even expert opinion, is by no means consistent or written in stone. Honest discussion here is difficult in the extreme.
#7 #10 The Murphy Report did NOT say that Dublin administrators knew EVERYTHING about clerical child abuse from the beginning. It said that from an early stage they knew enough to be capable of very different decisions, so that what they did NOT know (the learning curve) was NOT a sufficient excuse / explanation for how they behaved.
From the beginning they knew Jesus’ most vehement condemnation of this crime, and its criminal status in canon and civil law. If they knew nothing about its psychological and spiritual impact on children long before 1994 then this ignorance was chosen and culpable, as the children concerned could and would have borne witness to this.
Why was it eventually down to some of the families concerned to take the actions necessary to draw sufficient attention to the problem to make sure it was properly addressed – when the Dublin diocese knew more than enough long before 1994 to take the same decisive and public actions?
Everyone but Padraig McCarthy knows exactly why. Its administrators were inhibited not by what they did NOT know but by what they knew perfectly: that public revelation of the scale of the problem would set in train an explosive reaction in Ireland that would forever effect the status of clergy generally.
Not to be able to see and to face up to the obvious role of fear of shame in determining the actions and inactions of the Dublin bishops, and consequently to argue for a matter of years in utter futility ‘they didn’t know any better’ is a most singular beam in the eye. I pray that it will yield to prayer eventually.
Up to recently, as far as I can gather, the universal policy re pedophile offences would have been to hush them up. The offender would have been given a stern warning: think of the scenes where Pearse’s colleagues warned him he could not go on writing poems like “Little lad of the tricks” or of Msgr de Brun scolding Schrödinger for suspect behavior with young girls. Optimism about recividism may have prevailed, whereas now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Padraig is right to suggest that the entire society operated on these principles instinctively.
#12 What’s moral leadership then, Joe? Something we can’t expect from clergy and so must leave to infuriated parents – even though no Irish parent had as much knowledge of the scale of dangers posed to children by clerical abuse as bishop administrators?
Notice also that your post is a clear refutation of the ‘learning curve’ defence – by implying there was indeed a ‘hushing up’ in the Dublin archdiocese.
What’s the difference between a ‘hushing up’ and a ‘cover up’?
Thanks Joe@10 & 12 for that necessary corrective from context to Sean’s incorrigible certitude (passim) re Padraig’s consistent argument. I too pray that Sean’s certitude may eventually yield to Cromwell’s prayer: “in the bowels of Christ, think you that you may be mistaken”.
Eddie, Sean’s certitude, as you call it, is shared by just about every lay Catholic I have ever spoken with on this particular matter. I am totally puzzled as to why people like yourself will persist in trying to find arguments or, in your case, to support those who try to find arguments, to mitigate the awfulness of what was inflicted on young children and the persistent cover up that went on for years if not decades. Why, in God’s name, was it necessary for a learning curve to guide those we thought were our betters to finally do the right thing. Infact, as Sean rightly points out, they didn’t do the right thing until the parents finally forced the issue. This debate exasperates me!! I thought Sean’s analysis @11 was the perfect summing up but no …… Eddie, let me assure you, Sean’s certitude is definitely not mistaken.
As a long- time mitigator of the alleged antisemitism of T. S. Eliot and Martin Heidegger, I do believe that historical perspective often radically unercuts our initial indignation about how people spoke or acted in the past. Autres temps, autres moeurs. Who has not made mistakes, and who can be sure they would not have been deceived as Germans were in 1933? Families hushed up the embarrassing behaviour of errant uncles and the same attitude extended to errant priests, back then. SNAP and the Murphy Report seem to lack all historical sense. Of course there have been seismic shifts in perception here, pari passu in church and society. That is what is meant by the so-called learning curve.
I’ve never really given this much thought despite being part of Canada’s largest class-action – I was always thinking about how priests operate under a Canon law that obviously didn’t update its texts after the UN Charter of Human rights / the UN Convention on Genocide was promulgated in 1948. ***I was told that requests for the Roman Catholic Church’s stance on both documents were sent to the Secretary of State in October of 2011***
Who knows though – copied both my bishop and lawyer. I got billed for it, I know that much.
I’m not a lawyer, or know anything about Canon law so what I speak of comes from an uneducated recess of my mind where my imagination plays the “what’s the best case scenario?” game. It’s excessive to think about this stuff.
From the look of the comments on this, there is no question why children often refrain from telling an adult. The results could swing from unresponsive indifference to aggravated assault or murder (the latter being the fear of the dozen or so young boys in the same scenario in my personal story). We thought our fathers would most likely kill the priest. I’m from a quaint fishing village on Cape Breton Island – a demographic known to sometimes settle its own differences.
The learning curve on this is just as excessive. It doesn’t come down to whether or not external resources need to be contacted. That is not up for debate, nor should it have ever been. Where the allegations stem is not a qualifying factor (police are constantly looking for anonymous tips). The learning curve is how internal and external resources can occupy the same space dealing with a vulnerability that can ruin both child and adult if not handled properly.
The worst case scenario is easy. To find the runner up though, you have to dig a little deeper and protection against this scenario is just as important in my mind.
I agree that the reputation of a priest could never bounce back after the public at large learned of such an accusation within a parish (so much for the forgiveness). Based on this, normal allegations should be handled differently because if a priest is now somehow affected psychologically for the rest of his life because of false allegations (how could he not), there must be a huge price to pay for something as simple as a lack of discretion on the part of everyone involved.
I can’t look at it like a doctor being falsely accused of malpractice.
For that family who approaches these allegations, they should do so with extreme caution and secrecy because a false allegation, in my mind, should lead to a counter lawsuit if word spreads (in a just world).
Should the tables turn on a family simply because discretion was not used?
Doctors serve their hospitals first (at their employ), firefighters serve their stations (the same relationship) and teachers, their school boards. Priests tender to their flock directly and when that reputation is tarnished with such an allegation and this becomes public knowledge, all the time and good deeds in the world won’t make a difference. You possibly lose your shine for good, as sad as that sounds.
Discretion is key. Allegations from whatever source should be investigated with extreme discretion and a more profound respect for both parties should be employed.
I feel so strongly about this that I believe Canon Law should be made to reflect that any Catholic coming forward with both unsubstantiated claims and a lack of discretion (which is very easy to account for) could be grounds for excommunication and civil proceedings on the part of the priest (with the full financial support of the Church) due to the nature of the relationship between the priest and the Vatican.
The cost of creating a priest and the amount he both earns and helps raise during the tenure of his career is at stake. If you were all looked after properly (like the world’s most powerful organisation could), this is the way all allegations would be handled, in my mind.
I can understand both Sean and Padraig’s passion on this subject and any efforts to undermine their points are unwarranted. There is always a learning curve but the absence of a definitive procedure is not the end of a lesson. It just signifies that there is more to consider and explore. This is the way of the teacher. When clergy run into grey areas, continuing further usually signifies prayer and personal reflection and not necessarily outside help.
The experience of Fr Tim is deeply saddening especially coming from an organization which has as it’s theme ‘do not judge’. Pope Francis rails much against the dangers of gossip.Perhaps the ACP could collate the similar stories of other clergy falsely accused to illustrate the harm caused by investigation of anonymous complaints or ‘concerns’. To seek restitution is an entitlement.To face ones accusers is basic justice- even in the early Church. (Acts 25.16). To do else is to engage in calumny and slander.
#16 You are quite right to insist, Joe, that historical perspective is needed to assess the culpability of any individual’s decisions or failures in the past – but that again raises for me the question of from where moral leadership is to be hoped for – that often-lone voice that speaks in opposition to the’hushing’ of a grave wrong.
(Las Casas and slavery come to mind here.)
You will agree, I’m sure, that this voice will be both informed of the wrong in question and also necessary if there is to be any general facing of that issue – to ensure the ‘learning curve’ even curves.
Didn’t Fr Kevin Hegarty raise that very necessary voice on the issue of clerical abuse in that very critical year, 1994, in Intercom? And weren’t all bishops then acquainted with the issue of clerical abuse thereby provided with an opportunity to take it out of ‘hiding’ by supporting Kevin when he was accused by one senior bishop of damaging priestly morale, and then removed from his editorial role?
Did the Dublin bishops (who knew the full scale of the problem) do so by raising their own voices then, within the Irish bishops’ conference, in support of Kevin?
Are we not all compelled by that incident to hope that all priests would do what Kevin did – ‘push the curve’ and not do what all Irish bishops did : miss this opportunity to ‘push the curve’ by outing the full scale of the problem?
I don’t have a copy of that supposedly offensive Intercom article by Kevin. Might it be published again on this site – to prove both that moral leadership can indeed come from Irish Catholic clergy and that an opportunity was indeed missed by all serving bishops, to obviate the shock of the Murphy report and truly push everyone’s ‘learning curve’?
This has been an absorbing and sometimes passionate exchange of views. But I would like it to focus on the initial question raised by Tim Hazelwood namely what is the church’s current approach to dealing with ANONYMOUS accusations. It seems to me that Sean O’Connaill and Paddy Ferry have totally bypassed that question in their vehement attacks upon the admittedly very late and inadequate response of church authorities to accusations, most of which were NOT anonymous. Could we focus on specifically what should be done if the accuser chooses to remain totally anonymous to the person to whom s/he makes the allegation? In an unsigned types note for example…
Thanks, Lloyd, for providing historical texture. One detail is new to me: that a child or minor would not denounce abuse for fear that his father might murder the abuser. This is another illustration of how the demonization of pedophiles actually damages minors. Bishops have been loth to denounce priests because of the pedophobic rage of US judges who hand down sentences of up to fifty years. Honest communal discussion involving all parties is needed, but seems impossible.
The demonization is fuelled by the ritual use of the millstone text to bash pedophiles. I think all biblical warnings should be read as applying to the hearer only. Yes, Paul lashes out at Gentiles in Rom 1 but only as a build-up to the punch line: “therefore you have no excuse whoever you are, when you judge others: because, you, the judge, are doing the very same things” (Rom 2:1; NRSV).
Pat, if you read my comment again @8, I think you will find that I did not bypass the obviously unfair treatment of Tim Hazelwood which arose from the Church’s present policy in dealing with anonymous accusations.
#19 According to a report in the Irish Times of April 22nd 2002, that Intercom article questioning the performance of Irish bishops in relation to clerical child sex abuse appeared in December 1993. It was written by Philip Mortell, a former priest and senior social worker – not by the editor, Kevin Hegarty.
If this date and other information is correct, twenty tough questions were asked of bishops by Intercom SIX MONTHS before the case of Brendan Smyth (the very first warning most of us had of the occurrence of the problem in Ireland) had even hit the news in Ireland.
This surely confirms Joe O’Leary’s observation about a ‘universal’ ‘hushing up’ (#12). One can only guess at the impact Kevin’s experience must have had on any inclination by any other serving priest to ask open questions on this issue.
A ‘hushing up’ of this nature is also, obviously, not a pursuit of progress on a ‘learning curve’ but a blocking of it. So what support did Kevin Hegarty get from Dublin bishops in 1994-5 – to justify the later claim that they had truly pursued a ‘learning curve’? Did Mr Mortell ever even get answers to his twenty questions?
(For those with access to Irish Times archives, that 2002 report can be found at: http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/brave-priest-the-bishops-silenced-on-sex-abuse-1.1085978 )
#20 Doesn’t the ‘universal policy’ of ‘hushing up’ on the issue of clerical child abuse – and the experience of Gerard McGinnity in Maynooth 1984/85 – fully explain why actually true incidences of unwanted and abusive experiences (e.g. on the part of seminarians) might be reported anonymously?
That doesn’t mean they should be given any credence at face value, but what would be the implication of a policy of refusing even to receive such complaints?
That’s obvious surely: the recycling of those same complaints on a global blog – to support yet another allegation of ‘hushing up’.
Perhaps now we can get back to the point of Tim Hazelwood’s letter: the failure of church administation to provide procedures of due process where allegations are made, so that the accused person is not put in the position of being denied the presumption of innocence until such time as the case is properly heard.
This applies to all kinds of issues, including child abuse and preparation for the ordained priesthood in Maynooth College.
We must recognise also that any justice system, whether of civil or religious or other authorities, is necessarily limited. In human life, there is no guarantee that a justice system will always arrive at providing full justice for every person. Legal systems are not perfect. We can learn from failures and from miscarriages of justice, but we cannot eliminate them. Church and State must learn from their failures.
It would be a tragedy if Tim Hazelwood’s experience were to be simply forgotten. What can the Church in Ireland learn from his experience?
Is there any model of due process in the Church anywhere in the world that we could examine and build upon?
Philip Mortell (whom I remember as a very fine fellow) and Kevin Hegarty were prophets just at the turning of the tide. I remember just about that time looking at a piece about the Vatican and pedophilia among the clergy and an elderly priest telling me this should be brought out into the open. He seemed to be voicing what was then an unrecognized view. I’d say the real learning curve began with Smyth. Suddenly everyone was talking about what would have been taboo up to then. Sean thinks bishops should have been leaders not followers. But bishops were very backward in all such issues. They could not speak on gay issues for fear of upsetting the faithful (that was the stance of a liberal bishio in 1981).
Today Padraig and Tim Hazelwood are prophets of justice facing similar attitudes.
Having read all the above posts I agree with Sean O Connell .
Tim Hazelwood has been treated disgracefully as were the victims of abuse and their families.
The Hierarchy could not face up to the appalling vista these revelations would open up so they kicked the can down the road and we all know now the devastating consequence this has had for the Catholic Church .
The majority of the Bishops were appointed according to a template drawn up by Pope John Paul 11.
Basically, the requirements were for sound men, who would do Rome’s bidding.
Leadership ability,backbone and ability to think outside the box,were strictly off limits.
Tim Hazlewood’s experience, brilliantly illustrates the folly of appointing a bunch of sheep, to be Shepherds of the flock in Ireland.
Thanks to Pat @ #20 for getting us back on track. I do not see how an anonymous allegation can be
usefully or justly pursued. The first step in the investigation of any offence is to obtain a detailed
statement from the complainant, in which his or her allegations are fully particularised with details of
acts said to have been committed, time, place, surrounding circumstances and so on. Until one has such
a statement, which will necessarily start with the complainant’s name, there is no material which can profitably, much less fairly, be put to the person accused. “Someone has said that when you were serving in X
Parish you abused him” is unlikely to provoke a confession from the guilty and is grossly unfair to the innocent.