Priests respond strongly to review

Sat, Jun 16, 2012, 01:00

THE ASSOCIATION of Catholic Priests has responded strongly to details of a visitation report on the Irish College in Rome which was prepared for the Vatican by the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan.

Details of the report were published in The Irish Times yesterday. Among its main recommendations was that priests on the staff at the college’s seminary be replaced.

The association called on Ireland’s four Irish archbishops, trustees of the college, and bishops of the priests concerned, “to publicly repudiate this report in the strongest possible terms and to support the priests involved in seeking to restore their reputations”.

They protested “in the strongest possible terms against the methodology and conclusions” of Cardinal Dolan’s report and said it had “effectively destroyed the reputations of priests, who have given lifelong service to the Irish Catholic Church, without giving them a right of reply to the allegations made against them”.

They found it “unacceptable that a report to the pope, on a sensitive issue, should be conducted in such an incompetent fashion” and said “no court of law would treat people in such a way”.

The four Irish priests at the college, “as clerics, are entitled under Canon Law to their good name. Canon 220 states that ‘No one may unlawfully harm the good reputation which a person enjoys . . .’,” they said, while “civil law also protects a person’s good name through the laws of libel.”

It was “ironic” they said “ that it was precisely the failure of church superiors to follow either canon or civil law in abuse cases which led to the Apostolic Visitation in the first place”.

Cardinal Dolan’s report not only undermined the reputation of priests who had not been given a right of reply, it also undermined “the credibility of the whole visitation process.”

What they found “disturbing, indeed frightening”, was “what a draft response from the four Irish archbishops called ‘a deep prejudice’ appears to have ‘coloured the visitation’ from the outset and ‘led to the hostile tone and content of the report’.”

The judgment of the four archbishops seemed “vindicated in the clear efforts made by Cardinal Dolan’s team to find evidence to support the college’s “gay-friendly” reputation.

While the report failed to find such evidence, it still persisted in giving a detailed account of specific allegations and then went on to state that it did not find any evidence to support same.

It begged “the question as to why such detail is included in the report”.

Cardinal Dolan’s conclusion that “the overwhelming majority of the seminarians are committed to a faithful, chaste lifestyle” did “not justify the detailed, even prurient reporting and naming of individuals and accusations.”

If the accusations were not substantiated, “why not just say so? Is this just incompetence or perhaps homophobia?

“A charge of the latter could easily be justified as a result of the ‘coloured’ thinking that produced this report.”

It was “very disappointing, on a number of levels, to have to conclude (as the evidence of this report suggests) that the Apostolic Visitation had very little to do with child protection but was effectively part of an ongoing process of remaking the church in accordance with current Vatican thinking.”

The Association of Catholic Priests concluded “that the injustice perpetrated on four Irish priests is completely unacceptable” and that the incompetent approach of those entrusted with such a delicate task was “disquieting”.

There was a strong possibility that the report’s findings “were decided before the evidence was gathered”, they said.