Child protection cleric told priest of allegations
A PRIEST with responsibility for ensuring child protection in the diocese of Cloyne last night defended his actions in making allegations of sexual abuse by a woman available to a priest whom she accused over abusing her as a young girl in the 1980s.
Fr Bill Bermingham, designated person for safeguarding children for the diocese of Cloyne, said he believed his actions in making unsigned notes of an interview with the complainant available to the accused priest were consistent with church and State guidelines in the area.
“When I furnished this record, this was not in any way connected to the Garda investigation or to a pending Garda interview with the accused priest. Indeed, I did not know at the time when the gardaí intended to interview the accused priest in connection with the complaint.”
Fr Bermingham made his comments in a statement issued last night but he was strongly criticised by the complainant, who said he had shown extraordinary audacity in seeking to defend his handling of the matter.
The woman criticised Fr Bermingham’s attempt to justify his behaviour.
“I’m nearly beside myself with anger – the abuse I went through as a teenager was disgusting and appalling, but this is just the final insult. The way I’ve been treated by the church in the way they’ve handled this makes me feel as I’ve been violated again.”
The woman said she had been put in touch with Fr Bermingham after she contacted the church’s helpline Faoiseamh. She agreed to meet him with her husband and another complainant at the Nano Nagle Centre in Killavullen, north Cork, in June 2009.
“This was my first time in 30 years talking about this abuse and I said explicitly at the outset that it was simply an introductory meeting and he said he was just jotting down some notes for his own use.”
She said she was astonished when a few weeks later she received a letter from Fr Bermingham, in which he included a copy of his notes and asked her to confirm with her signature they were a correct recording of her allegations.
“It completely sickened me because I made it absolutely clear to him that I was making no formal statement. I didn’t reply and he never made any contact with me about them and then he went and presented his notes as my formal statement. It’s unbelievable ”
However, she was informed last February by gardaí that Fr Bermingham had confirmed to them he had forwarded the allegation to the accused priest after they became suspicious when they interviewed the priest and found he was aware of many of the details.
“It’s unbelievable that this man charged with safeguarding children could give an inaccurate record – because it wasn’t a full account – to this priest, arming him with a prior knowledge and to say he didn’t know when gardaí were going to interview him is disingenuous.”
Fr Bermingham confirmed in his statement that he never received a reply from the complainant but he had met the accused priest and informed him of the substance of the allegation and the priest asked for a copy of the allegation, as was his entitlement.
“While I believe that my actions were consistent with both State and church guidelines in this area, I am deeply upset that the complainant feels distressed by my actions,” he said.
“That was never my intention.”
He said that the safeguarding children guidelines required him to inform the accused priest “of the identity of the complainant and the nature and detail of the allegation.
“Safeguarding Children also states that the accused person must be given enough detail about the allegation to be able to offer a response.”