Slipping back into clericalism?

Sat, May 17, 2014, 01:11

Sir, – Joseph O’Leary (May 15th) accuses me of making a “scathing commentary” on the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) website on the relationship of Fr Michael Cleary with Phyllis Hamilton (“Slipping back into clericalism?”, Opinion & Analysis, May 13th).

Those who take the trouble to read that discussion will see that I did no such thing. What I did do initially was to lament the consequences for the church of the contradiction between Fr Cleary’s high public profile as a defender of a rigorous Catholic sexual morality, and his private life. Then I pointed to the difficulty of defending without serious implications the origins of Fr Cleary’s relationship with Phyllis Hamilton in a meeting between a mature priest and a teenager.

At no stage did I make a personal attack on the character of Fr Cleary, and the implication that I did so against Phyllis Hamilton is transparently untrue.

As to the question of the insurance taken out in 1987 by Irish bishops against financial liability for clerical sexual abuse, the “derisory premium and insured sum” are entirely beside the point. Our bishops delayed until 1994 in taking effective steps to protect children – and quite obviously did so then only because of the revelation of clerical child abuse in the media publicity over the Brendan Smyth case. The record is clear and still lamentable; it was the parents of abused children who initiated effective child safeguarding in the church – not Catholic bishops.

As for the safeguarding of young adults in the church, my understanding is that Catholic dioceses in Northern Ireland are presently setting out to develop guidelines for safeguarding relationships between clergy and all vulnerable adults. For some reason progress is slower in the Republic. The ACP could still play a part in mending that situation. Why should Catholic parents not hope it would take a lead in that? – Yours, etc,

SEAN O’CONAILL,

Greenhill Road,

Coleraine.