Priest takes action against RTÉ

Tue, Jul 5, 2011, 01:00

A priest who claims he was libelled in a recent RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme concerning alleged abuse of children and teenagers in Africa by Irish missionaries will apply later this week for a High Court order aimed at having RTÉ speedily provide its defence to his claim.

Fr Kevin Reynolds, a member of the Mill Hill Missionaries and acting parish priest of Ahascragh, Co Galway, says he is prepared to undergo a paternity test to prove his innocence of claims against him in the programme entitled 'Mission to Prey', broadcast on RTE One on May 23rd last.

In his action alleging libel by RTÉ, Fr Reynolds claims the programme wrongly accused him of raping an underage girl when she was a maid in a house which he had frequented while in Africa and also wrongly alleged he fathered a child by that girl.

He has assented to a request from the Mill Hill Missionaries Society superiors, together with the Bishop of Elphin, to step down from his ministry in Ahascragh and leave his home as a result of the “false accusations” levelled against him by RTÉ pending an investigation, according to court documents.

Mr Justice Sean Ryan today granted permission to Frank Callanan SC, for Fr Reynolds, to bring an application aimed at requiring RTÉ to deliver a defence soon in the proceedings.

An extremely serious libel of his client had been broadcast by RTÉ in which it was asserted he had raped a young girl in Africa, a child minder, counsel said. The programme had also been advertised by RTÉ.

Lawyers for Fr Reynolds had written five letters to RTÉ to date concerning the filing of a defence but RTÉ had on July 1st last failed to suggest any timetable for filing a defence, it is claimed. It was sought to have RTE file a defence within 10 days of the filing of the statement of claim in the case and that statement of claim was filed on June 29th last.

In his claim, Fr Reynolds says he was ordained in June 1971 and was a missionary in Africa from 1971 having been appointed to the Diocese of Kisumu and served in Kenya until January 2004.

He claims, on May 23rd 2011, RTÉ broadcast a Prime Time Investigates programme entitled 'Mission of Prey' which purported to deal with the alleged abuse of children and teenagers in Africa by Irish missionaries.

In that programme, RTÉ falsely and maliciously published allegations concerning Fr Reynolds which were scandalous and wholly witout justification, it is claimed.

In an affidavit, Fr Reynolds said he first became aware Prime Time was proposing to broadcast allegations against him on Saturday May 7th 2011 after a First Communion ceremony in the parish.

He was approached by a team from Prime Time Investigates, including a female interviewer who introduced herself as Aoife Kavanagh and proceeded to conduct an interview with him, he claimed. He freely engaged in this and denied immediately and in unqualified terms the allegations put by Ms Kavanagh to him, he said.

He was distressed and horrified at the intimation by the defendants of an intent to broadcast the allegations and instructed his solicitors to write to RTÉ seeking an immediate retraction of the allegations and an apology for the distress caused to him. RTÉ was advised, if it broadcast the allegations, he would be obliged to institute proceedings for defamation, he said.

RTÉ responded with an email from Aoife Kavanagh dated May 18th last indicating the intention to proceed with the broadcast and asserting the truthfulness of the allegations put to Fr Reynolds, he said. RTE elected to proceed with the broadcast of the programme on May 23rd.