"THE MEMORY OF JESUS IS BOTH SACRED AND SUBVERSIVE"
Thursday, 16 November 2017
Cards give priests advice on abuse claims
The Irish Times
PATSY McGARRY Religious Affairs Correspondent
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has issued an information card to assist priests faced with abuse allegations.
The move comes amid claims that guidelines prepared for the handling of such cases by the church’s own child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), were not being followed by bishops and religious superiors.
The issue was raised at the ACP’s annual meeting in Athlone last week.It had emerged at regional meetings that very little support was being offered to accused priests and many feel the right to due process is being denied to them, Fr Tim Hazelwood of the association’s leadership team said.
It was claimed that priests’ statutory rights were being denied in instances while there was “no strategy for innocence”. It was also claimed that innocent priests were “often grudgingly returned to ministry” and it was unjust “that a priest should be asked to stand down on the basis of an anonymous accusation.”
Such was the current level of unhappiness among priests about the handling of allegations by bishops that “there is an expectation that a priest will eventually sue a diocese for ill-treatment, bad practices, etc.”
There was also a call for a strengthening of the NBSC standard for the care and management of accused priests.
Fr Hazelwood presented the meeting last week with some current cases as examples of what ACP members are concerned about.
One priest was phoned by his superior who asked to see him. No reason was given nor was he advised to have someone with him. He was told there was a complaint against him. The priest asked if he should get a solicitor and was told, “it might not be a bad idea.” The priest was not offered any support.
Another priest was phoned by his superior who asked to meet him. Again, no reason was given and he was not advised to bring anybody. He met the superior and a canon lawyer. The priest was told he did not have to say anything and was advised to seek the help of both a canon lawyer and civil lawyer. He suffered huge trauma and felt someone should have been with him, Fr Hazelwood said.
According to guidelines for bishops and religious superiors prepared by the NBSC for such cases an accused priest should be told he may be accompanied at such meetings. He should be informed of his rights in canon and civil law and the right to remain silent.
He should be given sufficient details of allegations so he may offer a response if he wishes. A written record should be sent to him for signing after the meeting and he should be given written information about church procedure in such cases.
Information card Steps to follow
The Irish Times
1. When contacted by your bishop/superior always insist on knowing what it relates to.
2. Bring someone with you who is of strong character and aware of the process. (ACP can provide someone.)
3. We advise you to say nothing at the meeting.
4. Request the diocese to resource a canon lawyer and civil lawyer of your choosing.
5. Sign nothing and give no verbal undertaking at the meeting.
6. Do not be persuaded to ignore or bypass these guidelines no matter how often they say it is in your own best interest.
7. Ask the person who accompanies you to take notes of the proceedings and to sign them.
PAT SAYS: Generally speaking, I do not have much respect for the ACP. However, they do have an important point to make on the issue of innocent priests being accused of abuse and not having much support from the bishops and dioceses. Priests, like all other citizens, must be regarded as INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. These days all you need to draw suspicion on yourself is to wear a clerical collar. Innocent priests have been proven innocent in court and still, their lives and futures have lain in tatters. In fact, I often wonder if the name of the accused - as well as the name of the victim - should remain secret until after a verdict? I think an accused priest should be provided with both a canon and a civil lawyer by his bishop, superior or diocese.