RTE v. Fr Kevin Reynold: who was doing the preying?

This is what happened. For over two weeks in May of this year RTE One
advertised over and over again an upcoming Prime Time programme, called
Mission to Prey. It purported to unveil the sexual abuse of children by
Irish priests in Africa. The gist of the promo with its heavy-handed title
was that Irish missionaries, rather than preaching the Good News of Jesus
Christ, were ‘preying’ sexually on young children.
Inevitably, a collective breath was held by anyone associated with missions
and missionaries. Thousands of Irish missionaries, for more than a century,
had worked and were working in Africa, establishing parishes, building
schools and hospitals, feeding the hungry and, at great personal cost,
dedicating the best years of their lives to Africa and the missions.
Now, it seemed that, if the adverts for Mission to Prey were to be any
indication, the extraordinary commitment of heroic Irishmen and women to
Africa and the Christian message was to be blown out of the water. The gist
of the adverts repeated over and over again was that Irish missionaries were
on a mission to ‘prey’ rather to ‘pray.’ It seemed, in anticipation, an
indictment of the work of thousands of Irish missionaries over more than a
However, when the programme was broadcast, it seemed that the preceding hype
was just a way of distracting attention from the absence of any significant
content. At a time when, according to a recent survey, 42% of Irish
Catholics believe that 20% of priests are pedophiles (the real figure is
around 3%), the prospect of a huge audience for another sexual abuse
documentary about priests was too delicious a prospect for RTE to resist –
whatever the evidence. The present rabidly anti-clerical climate when
priests are automatically deemed guilty regardless of the evidence and the
certain knowledge that the Church would not support him convinced RTE that
they were pushing an open door. The creed in RTE, one journalist admitted,
is that ‘all priests are fair game.’
But back to Prime Time. Of seven alleged cases of child abuse discussed in
the programme, five were already reported on, one was dead – a Christian
Brother (and his congregation vehemently asserts that no allegation was ever
made against him) – and the remaining one was against Fr Kevin Reynolds.
Because of the dearth of actual news, the allegation against Kevin Reynolds
was the lynch-pin that, it seemed, would hold the programme together.
Kevin Reynolds was parish priest of Ahascragh in Co Galway. He had spent
most of his life working as a missionary in Kenya and ten years or so ago
returned to work in Ireland. From a news point of view, the allegation
against Reynolds seemed rich pickings. The accusation was that he had raped
a minor in 1982, fathered a child with her and subsequently abandoned her
and the child. A High Court judge had stated in the initial proceedings that
he couldn’t imagine in present circumstances a greater accusation against a
priest in Ireland.
RTE’s reporter, Aoife Kavanagh, had dramatically door-stepped Reynolds
outside his house as he made his way home from a First Communion Mass in his
parish, confronting him with the accusation that he was effectively a
criminal, a paedophile and a rapist.
The problem from RTE’s point of view was that none of that was true. None of
it. Reynolds was completely innocent. After the interview he contacted RTE
denying the allegations, and offering to take a paternity test to prove his
innocence. His bishop in Africa contacted RTE staying that Reynolds’ record
was impeccable. Even RTE’s legal advisors seemed unhappy about the
programme. Yet RTE refused to listen to a series of compelling reasons for
not broadcasting the programme. In the prevailing climate, they just
couldn’t resist it.
So the PrimeTime Investigates programme went ahead, and Reynolds was
immediately stepped down from his position. Luckily the Association of
Catholic Priests could source a high-powered legal team to take a case on
Reynolds’ behalf against RTE for defamation. And luckily the legal team
graciously agreed to take the case pro bono. And last week, after
protracted negotiations, RTE fully and unreservedly apologised to Reynolds,
acknowledging that it had grossly defamed him, and accepting that the
programme should never have been broadcast. It has agreed to pay ‘a
significant sum’ in compensatory and aggravated damages and to pay the costs of the trial.
Interestingly RTE has reacted in a way they have so trenchantly criticized
in others. Like other intstitutions under pressure they circled the wagons
and protected their members. Pat Kenny’s defence on his radio programme was
that it must be appreciated how embarrassing the mistakes were for Aoife
Kavanagh, as if a journalist’s embarrassment by any stretch of the
imagination could somehow be compared with the mental anguish and torment of
a priest who was unjustly humiliated and reviled before his family, his
parish and the whole country as a pedophile and a rapist.
Vincent Browne was another, from the wider journalistic community, who
rushed to Aoife Kavanagh’s defence as a journalist. One wonders what his
reaction would be if a journalist had called him a child abuser, a liar and
a rapist before over 500,000 viewers on PrimeTime and 338,000 listeners on
Morning Ireland. the following day.
The RTE authorities, singing from the same hymn-sheet, announced that none
of those responsible for the broadcast would be disciplined as it would be
better in the circumstances for people to learn from their mistakes than to
be forced to resign! It was a self-serving and defensive response that will
not just return to haunt them but will effectively dent their credibility in
the future.
Imagine Pat Kenny suggesting that a bishop or a politician should resign
when RTE advances its own rules for its own people when it suits them.
Should that liberal attitude to learning as you go along not have applied to
the bishops who resigned, or indeed to Brian Cowen?
More disastrously for RTE, as many have pointed out in the last few days, if
Mission to Prey was so far from the truth, what kind of light does it throw
on other PrimeTime Investigates programmes, including States of Fear (1999)
and Cardinal Sins (2002).
The facts are these: Fr Kevin Reynolds was completely innocent (as RTE now
accept); the programme Mission to Prey should never have been broadcast (as
RTE now accept); the personal trauma and nightmare inflicted on Fr Reynolds
could and should have been avoided (as RTE now accept); and all the money
and apologies in the world can’t compensate him for the sufferings he has
had so needlessly to endure. And yet RTE’s ungracious apology, rushed
through so disrespectfully, indicates that they still have no real
appreciation of how they damaged Kevin Reynolds and broken the trust of
their viewers.
RTE’s big mistake, of course, was to presume that because Kevin Reynolds was
a Catholic priest and the Catholic Church was so weakened and damaged by its
failures in this area that the rights of individual priests could be ignored
at will.
Thanks to the personal courage of Kevin Reynolds, the resilience of the
Association of Catholic Priests, the legal professionalism of solicitor
Robert Dore, senior counsel Jack Fitzgerald and Frank Callanan and others,
Kevin Reynolds is not spending the rest of his life in a limbo situation
with his character destroyed, his reputation ruined, his work as a priest
over. And worst of all trying to live out his final years coming to terms
with the fact that he was completely innocent.
RTE should hang its head in shame. And so should all those (including Church
authorities) who automatically seem to believe that a priest is guilty until
the courts have proven his innocence. How many more priests are there whose
lives have been ruined?

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  1. What’s the point in complaining about and criticising RTE if you don’t do anything about it? I have a suggestion: get rid of your television and don’t pay the TV licence. If you need to watch anything, you can watch programmes and sometimes even live TV on the RTE website and RTE Player. There’s no point propping up a corrupt system with your own money.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    Bishops and priests were lambasted for any suggestion that the child abuse scandal was being blown up by the media, and now this scandal has made it as plain as day, and has shown the media utterly steeped in the hypocritical self-serving attitudes of which they accuse the clergy. Thanks to Brendan Hoban and to Noel Whelan in this morning’s Irish Times for showing this so clearly.

  3. Mangy Donkey says:

    Hopefully, future historians will look back on this episode as the lowest depth in some ways that modern secular society had reached in the reporting of the ‘boom/bust’ pendulum which has been charted as the history of the hierarchical version of the church in Ireland.
    As I have pointed out elsewhere on this site, there is something a bit awry about ‘celebrating’ the fact that a man did not in fact father a child.
    Our nature as humans, is to be fertile, to fill the earth and conquer it, and let’s face the truth, we have not celebrated human ‘fertility’ as we should.
    We have imposed upon ourselves and our faithful a philosophy of ‘sterility’, and that was wrong.
    There is no doubt that the ‘new priesthood’ which eventually emerges, will be one of man, seen as the ‘priest of creation’, if I may quote our late Pope.
    The world is in flux, and we need to cultivate gardens flourishing with life, and promised a great destiny, if I may paraphrase one of his predecessors.
    The people who propagate these gardens will of course have pastors who will not always themselves propagate such gardens, but exclusivity in this regard, by necessity should not be.
    I look forward with eternal hope, to new possibilities!

  4. Thank you, Brendan, for your trenchant and true statement of the reality of what happened, and its painful implications. Who knows whom next the media folk will come after, allegations blazing? It would appear that their learning curve is not so sharp as what they demanded of the bishops, and their capacity for metanoia seems totally repressed! But of course there are honest, decent journalists in there too; and we must hope that their influence may be helped by this recent case about Fr. Reynolds.

  5. Donkey, you said,
    ”As I have pointed out elsewhere on this site, there is something a bit awry about ‘celebrating’ the fact that a man did not in fact father a child.”
    We are NOT celebrating the fact that a priest did not father a child, we are celebrating the fact that a priest falsely accused of RAPE was actually proven innocent.

  6. Such an exhibition of triumphalism on the Feast of Christ the King saddens me greatly.

  7. John Byrne says:

    Well done Brendan on a clear statement of this diabolical affair. And what of the beautiful soundbite ‘rolled heads can’t learn anything’ – rich from an organization that constantly looks for resignations! There is an irony in the fact that Kevin Reynolds is ‘lucky’ in that among the false allegations made against him was one that he had fathered a child. If he had been accused ‘only’ of being a rapist and pedophile he would not have had available to him clear and incontrovertible proof that the accusations were ‘lies’. I wish him every good wish and blessing as he picks up the pieces.

  8. Shelia
    I want to make two points. A person named Shelia (on another part of this web site) said that victims of clerical child sexual abuse did not have the resources and backing of the Association of Catholic Priests. I don’t know if this was your post or if it belonged to someone totally different. Actually, the ACP did not have such resources but were lucky enough to find some legal people who were willing to represent them on a pro bono basis.
    Secondly, this case confirms my belief that there is only institution who can dispense justice, namely the courts of the land. I believe that anyone who has been abused by a living person should pursue a criminal and/or civil case against the abuser. Having a parallel system of justice (such as the Church Guidelines) leads to injustice and we cannot have trial by media. I am pleased that there will be an independent enquiry into the Fr. Reynolds defamation case.

  9. Congraulations to the ACP for your fraternal support to Fr. Kevin, MHM. Let us not forget the lady in Kenya and her child: they too were used by RTE and maybe suffering the consequences within their own Kenyan community. Having lived and worked in East Africa, I find myself holding them also in my thought and prayer. My main issue now is with Fr. Kevin’s bishop in Ireland. I have not heard or read of any comment from him in the media. Canon law precludes action being taken against him. However, in moral terms, should he not make a public statement re: the guidelines which placed him in the position of removing Fr. Kevin from his parish and all that that implies for Fr Kevin, his family, parishioners and the Mill Hill Community?
    Perhaps other bishops and archbishops should reflect deeply before removing a single priest when faced with an unproven allegation against a priest. I suggest it is time to re-visit Fr James Good’s suggestion: all allegations be reported by the alleged victim not to church authorities but to the Gardai. Should the Gardai find there is a case against the priest, then and only then should the priest step aside from pastoral ministry.

  10. Mairead states…
    “Having a parallel system of justice (such as the Church Guidelines) leads to injustice and we cannot have trial by media.”
    Can I ask the leaders of the ACP a question ?
    Does your organisation support and adhere to the current guidelines on Child Protection issues laid out by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church?

  11. Congratulations to all in the Association for their support given to Fr.Reynolds. Fr.Brendan Hoban, as always, speaks for all innocent priests in his widely- read Western People article. But did anyone notice the clip RTE used in its news bulletins of this week, which showed Fr.Reynolds walking from the court and placing a hand near his fly? This clip was not used by chance.
    On a personal: since you now have 600 members, would at least 200 purchase my autobiography: ” No Love Here- a Priest’s Journey.” to help me towards recovering the costs of the printing, which I had to borrow. If it is not in your local bookshop, you may order from Amazon or my websie : authormartingordon.com
    The Late Late Show does not want me, because, perhaps, I accuse Dawkins of certain things and am Pro Life.
    Keep up the good work and God bless,

  12. well said
    RTE are a disgrace

  13. I totally agree with Fr Jude. It should only ever be a matter of the police and civil law too.
    Barry Clifford Child Aware

  14. I realise that I am in a minority on this site, but Fr Jude’s suggestion is, in my view, very dangerous. The idea that a priest who has had an allegation made against him would only be suspended when the civil authorities decide to prosecute takes no account of the need for best practise in terms of safeguarding. There are frequently examples when an abuser has engaged in behaviour that is entirely inappropriate for ministry buy for numerous reasons may not be legally actionable.
    In seeking to respond properly to child protection concerns the primary concern must always be the safety and protection of children. This means that best practice requires that any person who is the subject of concerns or allegations should step aside from working in any position that gives them access to children and vulnerable adults, be that in a church, community, professional or voluntary capacity.
    Their stepping aside must not be seen as a sanction or as a finding in any way of guilt or impropriety. Rather we should support the good practice of stepping aside as a commitment to children and their welfare.
    If following an effective and thorough assessment of the concern or allegation it is found to be groundless determined and ongoing work to ensure that the reputation and dignity of the person whose good name has been vindicated is restored is essential.
    It is of vital importance that child protection measures are not delayed pending a decision from the DPP on whether or not to take a prosecution.
    Prosecution is a criminal justice response, and not a child protection measure. There are many, many cases referenced in state inquiries, both in the context of church and beyond, where offenders have not been prosecuted. For example, there have only been three prosecutions taken by the DPP for offences against children by Roman Catholic clergy and religious in the institutions investigated by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse despite clear evidence that many thousands of children were horrifically abused in these institutions.
    Prosecutions or indeed convictions cannot be seen as the burden of evidence necessary to act to protect children. If it is there is no doubt that many, many children will be left at risk of grave abuse and harm within church, families, communities and in many other contexts.
    Any error may result in the need to work to support or indeed restore the good name of a wrongly accused or suspected person. And we must be prepared to do such work with integrity and honesty. But an error in not acting to require a person who has abused a child to step aside may well result in the rape and abuse of other children. It is impossible to put right the rape and violation of a child. It simply cannot be done.

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