Statement from the Association of Catholic Priests: Dec. 1st
Statement from the Association of Catholic Priests
We welcome the report from the National Board for Safeguarding Children on child protection practices in six dioceses. It is good to know that, while mistakes were made in the past, significant improvement has been made, and parishes are now deemed to be much safer places for children.
We would like to draw attention to one statistic that has been revealed by the report. In all, allegations were made against 85 priests. Eight of those were convicted of a criminal offence. In some other cases a settlement was made with the alleged victim. But that still leaves a substantial number of priests against whom no inappropriate behaviour was criminally or civilly established. But what we can say for certain is that each of these was immediately removed from ministry, most in a public way that brought shame and disgrace on them and on their families, and often caused
great upset in their parish communities. Many of them have remained in a limbo situation for years, asserting their innocence but having no way of clearing their name. To quote one expert legal opinion, the way they have been treated “offends the very basic and fundamental principles of natural justice and fair procedures”.
We believe that many bishops, in their great desire to implement the child protection guidelines, and to be seen by the media to be doing so, have lost sight of the rights and entitlements of priests to their good name and reputation.
So we would wish to balance this debate by asserting this right, and stating that in attempting to make right the wrong done to victims of abuse another group of people – innocent priests whose reputations, character and lives have become collaterally and often permanently damaged without any possibility of redress – may be victimised in a different way. This concern, we believe, should be a constituent part of the ongoing debate.
Brendan Hoban: 086 6065055 Tony Flannery 087 6814699
One factor which does not seem to be included in the reviews is the total number of priests who served in those dioceses over the period 1975-2010. This would give a clearer picture of the question.
There seems to be an emphasis in media reports on the failures of the past (which, as Patsy McGarry describes them, are deja vu) rather than on the good news of the clear improvements. If other bodies involved with children were subject to the same degree of scrutiny, I wonder how they would fare.
In the Irish Times (page 11) Thursday 1 Dec, the executive director of One-In-Four, Maeve Lewis, welcomes the huge improvement.
The report, however, quotes her as having “some concerns regarding the number of priests against whom allegations have been made who are still in ministry”, and as saying that it would have been “helpful if the reasons for priests remaining in ministry had been discussed”.
This seems quite the wrong way around. The discussion should be on the reasons for priests being removed from ministry. It should not be a matter of having to prove a person’s innocence.
It is encouraging to read the response of the ACP to this report.
While I welcome and share your enthusiasm for all that is good in our church today, as revealed in these recent audits, I share your deep concern for the many priests who remain out of ministry and who have not been found guilty of any crime- some indeed have never got a chance to make their case or defend their name, as many complainants, we now know, often make no allegation to the state bodies.
It is for this reason that the big difference between the numbers of priests that had allegations made against them (162) and the numbers of those who were actually convicted (8) concerns me.
Are their many priests, who unlike Fr Kevin Reynolds cannot produce a paternity test as evidence and who therefore have no way of definitively proving their innocence.?
This is a worrying development, which needs to be addressed.
Please continue to speak for your fellow priests caught in this dilemma- they must depend on this association as their only lifeline.
This statement is profoundly misleading. Especially in relation to the 85 priests accused of abuse where the ACP states: “what we can say for certain is that each of these was immediately removed from ministry, most in a public way that brought shame and disgrace on them and on their families, and often caused great upset in their parish communities”.
It must be clear to Frs Hoban and Flannery CSsR that this audit deals with allegations from 1975 to the present. Almost certainly between 1975 and the mid-1990s NO priest accused of abuse stepped aside since his ‘rights’ were consistently put ahead of those of innocent children by the institutional Church.
Of the 85 priests who have had allegations made against them 44 are dead, 11 are back in ministry. This leaves 30 more, many of whom have left the priesthood. It is not fair or accurate for the ACP to try and give the impression that a conviction is the only just basis on which to decide whether or not a priest is guilty of abuse and therefore should be free to serve with children.
It’s ironic that the ACP appears to be showing the same ‘rights of priests before all else’ attitude that has been so painfully revealed in the reports into abuse in Ferns, Dublin and Cloyne.
Kyle, you state “it is not fair or accurate for the ACP to try and give the impression that a conviction is the only just basis on which to decide whether or not a priest is guilty of abuse….” Of course it would be unfair and inaccurate for ACP to even TRY to give such an impression. But I am at a total loss to try and divine, from your submission, (and from the ACP statement), an implication that a conviction is the ONLY just basis on which to make the conviction stick”.
It is right that priests should have an Association to support each other and it is with interest that I read the topics covered. In relation to the present article I was a bit taken aback at the suggestion that because many priests who were accused were not subsequently convicted; therefore they must be considered innocent. I worked for many years as a social worker and when working in child protection I know that it is almost impossible to get a conviction for someone who has abused a child.
A person is considered innocent until proven guilty. Every adult knows this and the majority accused by the police will claim innocence. Then commences the work of getting evidence that the child has been sexually abused. That is extremely difficult since the adults who ‘know’ or are family members of the accused; will make every effort to make light of what has happened to the child so that (as they so often claim) the family may stay together. I am referring here to instances where the abuse has occurred within the family circle.
In reading the current article I was once again in memory catapulted back to those days when I witnessed the distress, confusion, and pain of children who were destined to live or be ‘cared for’ by adults who could not be convicted because of lack of hard evidence.
I imagine that some few of the priests who were alleged to have abused children are truly innocent. Towards them a terrible injustice has been visited. However I do not believe that all of them are innocent.
The coming to light of the abuse has rocked all of us and as a ‘person from the pews’ I can say that many of us also felt completely unsupported by our priests a bit like you did by your bishops. Like you we struggled alone until that worked no longer and then many found other lay people to talk with. We sought and continue to seek answers for the ‘whole mess’ in the Bible.
Thank you for allowing us to be part of your conversations.
Supporting Betty’s point above, I would recommend to anyone who doubts the difficulty in investigating and proving cases like this that they should read Breaking the Silence, the book written by Martin Ridge, one of the gardaí who investigated the crimes of Fr. Eugene Greene in Co. Donegal.