Concerns have been expressed over draft guidelines for suspending priests accused of sexual abuse. “Leave from Sacred Ministry”, drafted by the Church’s own safeguarding authority, is under consideration by the Irish bishops and is understood to suggest publicly naming any priest
facing an accusation of sexual abuse, even though the priest may subsequently
be cleared. Leaked details of the draft guidelines, written by the National
Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) said that the
proposals will also place the onus on accused priests to produce evidence to
disprove an allegation in order to have the allegation classed as unfounded.
Priests could also have to wait for the conclusion of an internal church
investigation, which will follow a civil investigation, before they can be allowed
to return to ministry. The Irish Conference of Religious (Cori) has accepted the
guidelines as has the Irish Missionary Union but the Irish bishops are yet to
Fr Tony Flannery, spokesman for the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), said that members would be “very unhappy” with these proposals if they were to go ahead in their current form.
He said the ACP, which represents more than 600 priests, would be “uneasy”
about guidelines which appeared to presume that a priest was “guilty until
proven innocent” and which put “the onus on the priest to prove his innocence”.
He added, “Our legal advice has highlighted that this kind of position violates
the basic and fundamental principles of natural justice and fair procedure”.
The chief executive of the NBSCCC, Ian Elliot, said that “a great deal of attention has been paid to
trying to be as balanced and fair as possible” on the “Interim Guidance” on leave
from ministry. He said that the NBSCCC had consulted widely on it for over two
years and the current draft was the ninteenth. He added that it is “likely that
they [the Irish bishops] will adopt it later this month subject to some final
amendments and discussion”. Currently, there is no agreed standardised
procedure on how bishops or heads of religious congregations should handle the
enforcement of leave of a priest accused of abuse. Procedures vary from diocese