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ACP leaders bring priests’ concerns to Ian Elliot

Sean McDonagh, Brendan Hoban and Tony Flannery had a meeting with Ian Elliot of the NBSCCC on Friday, November 30th. This was in the context of a review of the Interim Guidelines, which is currently taking place. First we clarified that we are totally in favour of best practice for the protection of children in all Church activities. This is a report of the issues we raised with Mr. Elliot.
1. The first issue we raised concerned the way in which news of an allegation is conveyed to a priest. A few basic points should be observed.
• When the bishop or religious superior invites a priest/religious to come to meet him he should inform that person of the nature of the meeting, and advise him that he has the right to bring a support person with him.
• The priest/religious is entitled to know the name of the accuser, and to have the accusation in writing.
2. The problems related to the stepping down of a priest. This is more likely to concern diocesan priests than religious. The points we made on this were:
• The parish Eucharistic celebration should never be used as the occasion for making an announcement of the stepping down of the priest.
• A public announcement to the whole parish is not necessary. It almost inevitably leads to the priest being considered guilty.
3. Priests particularly worry about someone who makes an allegation of abuse against them, but does not want to pursue the matter further, in particular does not want to make a statement to An Garda Siochana or the PSNI. In this situation the priest can be removed from ministry and left in limbo for many years. This is not a satisfactory response. It also raises the question as to who has the necessary qualifications to assess the credibility of an allegation, bearing in mind that this is not an exact science. Many priests do not have confidence in the ability of Church leaders or canon lawyers to make such an assessment. Neither have the necessary training. It would certainly enhance the credibility of an allegation if the person making it was prepared to make a statement of complaint to An Garda Siochana/PSNI. In the absence of this process, it becomes more difficult to see that justice has been done, and seen to be done, to all the people involved. We readily acknowledge that this is a very delicate area, how to balance the veracity of the allegation against the right of a priest to fair procedures. Maybe if there was a committee composed of people with qualifications in psychology and counselling, they could examine the allegation to see whether there is a prima facie case which would warrant removing the priest in question from ministry.
4. Removing a priest from his place of residence after an allegation should not normally happen, unless the particular circumstances of the case demand it. Even then it should be done with great sensitivity, and conscious of the fact that the priest is going through a difficult time.
5. When an allegation against a priest has been shown by the civil authorities to have no credibility (there have been a fair number of false allegations in recent times), the priest should be returned to ministry as quickly as possible. If a Church investigation is considered necessary it should be done expeditiously. And every effort should be made to restore the priest’s good name.

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  1. Peter Stobart says:

    I was pleased to read this report of the meeting with Ian Elliot. One thing I can never understand is why, once an allegation against a priest has been found without substance by the Garda, it takes the Church heirarchy ages to restore the priest to ministry.
    This is unfair and cruel to the priest who has already suffered.

  2. Jerry Slevin says:

    Is the ACP just another clerical group that seeks to protect priests first, last and always?
    If ACP and priests want to protect themselves from prosecution, litigation and/or public ignominy, ACP needs to focus more on getting bishops to be more accountable and transparent.
    While certainly priests, as with all citizens, deserve due process and the benefit of the doubt until sufficient evidence indicates otherwise, ACP’s over-emphasis on protecting priests is disappointing, especially given priests’ widespread acquiesence in the disgraceful Irish priest child abuse scandal.
    It does help explain, though, why ACP is not an inclusive group that directly includes lay Catholics in its leadership, especially women. So what else is new?

  3. Jerry, the Bishops are not willing to meet with the Leadership of the ACP so it would be very difficult for the ACP to “focus on getting bishops to be more accountable and transparent”. I commend the ACP for its’ tranparency in publishing the points that it put to Ian Elliot. I think that proof is needed that priests’ acquiesence in the sexual abuse of children by other priests was widespread. I know that the Murphy Report made that allegation but did not appear to back it up factually. I would be slow to dismiss this group as just another clerical group that seeks to protect priests, first, last and always.

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    “priests’ widespread acquiescence in the disgraceful Irish priest child abuse scandal.” I query this; along with your recent claim of 100,000 victims of clerical child abuse in the USA.

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