Questions on RTÉ apology case
On 6th and 7th October, RTÉ broadcast on television and radio an apology to Fr Kevin Reynolds for allegations made in their Prime Time Investigates programme of May 23rd of this year entitled A Mission to Prey. The apology, as given on their website, is 352 words. This is the longest apology from any media organisation that I can remember, and yet still unequal to the original broadcast. Coming less than five months after the programme, the apology seems unusually swift, following assistance of a legal team through the Association of Catholic Priests. If Kevin Reynolds did not have that assistance, would he have been left at the mercy of the might of a large corporate body and their legal team, with little hope of redress, or only after a lapse of years?
Abuse can never be undone. There is a saying about false reports that the bell cannot be unrung. I have no knowledge of the other cases covered by the programme. Any abuse of another, whether child or adult, is seriously sinful, to use an old-fashioned word. There are, however, answers still to be sought about this case at least.
Why did RTÉ refuse to pay heed before the broadcast? What legal advice were they following? What repercussions will there be in RTÉ as a corporate body, and what repercussions will there be for the individuals who made the decisions? Will it be taxpayers’ money, through the RTÉ licence fee, who will pay for the legal costs and for any compensation awarded? Would RTÉ be prepared to invite Fr Kevin Reynolds, if he were willing, or a representative of his, to come on Prime Time to discuss what has been done, and how it has affected his life? Was there any stonewalling on the part of RTÉ before they “now fully and unreservedly accept that the allegations made by Prime Time against Fr. Kevin Reynolds are baseless, without any foundation whatever and untrue”?
A statement from Minister for Justice Alan Shatter (on the Department of Justice and Equality website at http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR11000064) goes as follows: “The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D., said,: ‘I share the widespread public concern and disgust at the revelations which the programme contained.’” Why did the Minister, with many years experience of practice in law, speak of “revelations” rather than “allegations”?
Executive director Maeve Lewis of One in Four said its content was “sickeningly recognisable and told the same story that we are so familiar with in Ireland: vulnerable children being targeted and abused by priests and brothers while the Catholic authorities deny the abuse and protect the sex offenders”, as reported in the Irish Times on 25 May. There have indeed been deplorable failures on the part of church authorities (I wonder about other authorities too); but is any and every defence to be dismissed and condemned?
Prime Time, like the Murphy reports on Dublin and Cloyne, can do very good work, but they have their limitations and are not immune from error. As with abuse, their actions and statements have serious and long-lasting consequences. Perhaps the apology from RTÉ, while still seriously inadequate, will set a new standard for Irish media.
Greetings from Lima, Peru where I am visiting Irish Missionaries. The feeling among missionaries here is that the apology while welcomed was very slim in comparision to the prior promotion which was given to the original progarmme.
Minister Alan Shatter should also apologize as should Maeve Lewis.
Pádraig, many thanks for putting this in the Irish Times this morning. This ‘paper of record’ and its ‘Religious Affairs Correspondent’ has been disgracefully silent on RTE’s apology, in contrast with their treatment of the Prime Time “investigative” programme itself. I suppose an agenda can, when convenient, be served equally well by silence as by the more usual melange of fact-and-opinion masquerading as analysis.
It not just silence from Mc Garry and Lewis – though Lewis has a case to answer as she jumped on the bandwagon at the time; like Shatter
What about Rafferty; o’Gorman and all those other so called Irish ‘human rights’ types
Slightly evasive reply from RTE complaints..
I wish to acknowledge receipt of your email concerning the apology broadcast on RTÉ in regard to a recent Prime Time programme. RTÉ has admitted mistakes were made in that programme and has apologised accordingly.
As there are legal matters outstanding RTÉ cannot comment on the specific case that led to the apology.
With every good wish,
Máire Nic Fhinn,
I confirm that the Irish Missionary Union has been advised by our solicitors that IMU is unable to respond to the RTE apology, until such time as the High Court proceedings are concluded. Any statement would be in contempt of court.
Fr Kevin Reynolds was not the first religious to be falsely accused by RTE. The following is from an essay by UK cultural historian Richard Webster called “States of Fear, The Redress Board and Ireland’s Folly”. It is part of his book “The Secret of Bryn Estyn – The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt” regarding a fake child abuse “scandal” in Wales.
“The Irish story then developed in a manner which paralleled the development of the North Wales story. In 1996 the producer and director, Louis Lentin, made a television documentary about abuse in children’s homes which was shown by RTE, the main public service broadcasting station in Ireland. It focused on the brutal regime which was said to have been operating during the 1950s at St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, one of a network children’s homes or detention centres which were funded by the state and run by the Catholic Church.
“The documentary featured allegations made against Sister Xavieria, one of the nuns belonging to the Sisters of Mercy order which ran the home. The woman ‘survivor’ at the centre of the film claimed that, on one occasion, she had been caned by Sister Xavieria so severely that the entire side of her leg was split open from her hip to her knee. She says she was treated in the casualty department of the local hospital and believes that she received 80 to 120 stitches. No medical evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this bizarre claim.
“The surgeon who ran the casualty department at the hospital in question has given evidence which renders it highly unlikely that such an incident ever took place. Apart from anything else, the surgeon points out that caning would not have caused a wound of this kind, which would have required surgical treatment under a general anaesthetic and not stitches in a casualty department. Yet although the evidence suggests that the woman’s memory was a delusion, her testimony was widely believed at the time. In the wake of the broadcast, atrocity stories about Goldenbridge and other industrial schools began to proliferate.”
3. Sunday Times (Ireland), 28 April 1996, citing the views of the surgeon, J. B. Prendiville.
So what did the Sisters of Mercy do after the program was broadcast in February 1996? Why they apologised to the accusers! They did not say that the accused nun was guilty. However they took the view that people who made false allegations of child abuse must be suffering deep pain and the way to heal their pain was to apologise to them. Their folly (to be repeated several times over the years), may help to explain why RTE felt they could get away with anything.
For a 1999 article from New Statesman on defective reporting by BBC, see http://www.richardwebster.net/whatthebbcdidnottellus.html.