Monday, December 5, 2011

Sitting Ducks

The Fr Reynolds case is still foremost in the minds of many.  There is a very good article by John Allen on the false accusations made against Fr Reynolds.  A number of points are worth noting.  First, Fr Reynolds was able to use science to prove that he was not an abuser - the vast majority of innocent priests who are accused have no recourse to such proof and so will forever live under suspicion even when acquitted by a court. 

Allen also notes that no senior figure in the Church went to the priest's defence - it was down to the ACP to help him prove himself innocent.  It has been said by some that priests are abandoned by their bishops once an accusation is made. I know of one priest who was given a few hours to "get out" of his home, take off his clerical garb and was not allowed know the nature of the accusations against him for a number of weeks.   All of these offend natural justice, never mind the law of charity imposed on Christians by our Saviour.  We understand bishops around the world are doing their best in trying to deal with this crisis, but I think they may need to do more for priests to ensure the above accusation against them does not prove to be true.

I understand, and fully accept, proper procedures must be followed, but perhaps we need to look at those procedures and see if they allow the accused their basic rights.  Perhaps we have swung too far in the opposite direction.  And if we have, why have we?  Is it to ensure children are protected, or to be seen to be taking accusations seriously?   After all, even the greatest murderers and serial killers in history were allowed their rights under the law and a fair trial.  Why not priests?  To ask such a question seems unacceptable in these times, and indeed portayed by some as offensive to victims, as if the appeal to truth and justice was in some way an attempt to deny what has happened.  It is not, but justice, truth and charity are for all.

Reading the comments beneath Allen's article, I was struck by one:
"I am an old priest, and every priest I talk to awaits the day when there is some accusation and his life as a priest is over. A colleague was accused, denies the accusation, and was informed by a canon lawyer that "in this climate" he is as good as dead."
What Father here says is true.  The same sentiments are expressed by a Donegal priest in his homily yesterday, as reported by The Irish Times.  Every single one of us know we are sitting ducks.  Antagonise a parishioner, even preach a part of the Gospel that some do not want to hear, and you could be accused to punish you or get you out of the way.  It makes little difference if the accusation is obviously false, you are destroyed, and the false accuser knows that they will never be punished even if they are found out: for them it is a win-win situation.

As John Allen rightly points out, destroying innocent priests does not do justice to genuine victims, and taking the easy way out by accepting unquestioningly that all accusations are true does not help them either.  These things only contribute to a climate which allows media to make allegations with little proof and leads whole populations to believe the myth that all priests are abusers.  
Time, I think, for all of us to watch or read Arthur Miller's The Crucible: it has a lot of wisdom to offer us in this crisis.  Justice, truth, charity and prudence.

1 comment:

  1. False accusations and general paranoia could result in Church agents passing over even genuine claims of abuse in future as a countermeasure against false accusations. Like crying wolf I guess.