Call for guidelines change on safeguarding children

 

A WOMAN who made a complaint of sexual abuse against a priest has called for a change in church guidelines on child protection after a cleric responsible for protecting children in the diocese of Cloyne resigned after passing on details of her allegations to the accused man.

The woman said she took no solace from the resignation of Fr Bill Bermingham as designated person for safeguarding children in Cloyne. There was an urgent need to review the guidelines which allowed him to inform the accused priest of her complaint.

Fr Bermingham announced on Saturday that he asked to be relieved of his role in safeguarding children in Cloyne after it became clear to him that he did not enjoy the confidence of victims of child sexual abuse over his handling of the woman’s case.

Fr Bermingham’s decision to step down came just 24 hours after he had defended his actions.

He had passed a copy of notes he had taken during a meeting with the woman to the priest she had accused of abusing her in the 1980s, when she was just 13 years old.

“From the recent media coverage of a case involving an allegation of child sexual abuse made against a priest of the diocese of Cloyne, it is clear that my handling of the particular case has caused further distress to the complainant,” said Fr Bermingham in a statement.

“It is vital that any person occupying the role of designated officer/delegate within the church should have the complete confidence of victims of child sexual abuse and of persons wishing to report abuse. This is an absolute value.”

Fr Bermingham said his handling of the case had, despite his best intentions, served to undermine that confidence and for that reason and in the interests of the church’s policy for safeguarding children, he had asked to be relieved of his child protection role.

Archbishop Dermot Clifford, who is administrating the Cloyne diocese, said he had accepted Fr Bermingham’s resignation.

He thanked him for his efforts in seeking to rebuild trust with people who have been harmed by priests in the diocese.

However, the woman at the centre of the controversy said Fr Bermingham had said in an earlier statement that he believed that his actions in giving details of her allegations to the accused man “were consistent with both State and church guidelines”.

“Fr Bermingham said that he gave his notes of my complaint to the priest because it was his entitlement under the guidelines. If the guidelines can allow him to do that, then the guidelines need to be changed so that something like that doesn’t ever happen again.

“The church’s entire position on child protection is an absolute farce and will remain so as long you have guidelines that are open to individual interpretation, where someone can go and alert an accused person before they can be interviewed by the gardaí.”

The woman said she was incredulous that the State would allow such guidelines to operate where a priest accused of child sex abuse could effectively be forewarned before gardaí could interview them.

“I don’t know of any circumstances where somebody is told in advance of what they are accused before the gardaí have a chance to question them. That entitlement has to be removed from the guidelines if they are to have any credibility,” she said.

“I mean, why should this priest or any priest get this special privilege of being informed in advance of what they’re accused of? No one else being investigated by the gardaí gets that sort of treatment. Why should a priest be told in advance what to expect?”