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.