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.