Letter warned of 'defamatory' attributions in abuse report

 

THIS IS the full text of a letter from the chairman of the Interdiocesan Case Management Advisory Committee, representing the diocese of Cloyne, to Aidan Canavan, chairman of the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC).

Dear Mr Canavan,

Bishop John Magee of Cloyne has repeatedly advised you that he wishes to work in the closest collaboration with the National Safeguarding Board for Children.

Bishop Magee made available to us a document entitled: Report on the Management of Two Child Protection Cases in the Diocese of Cloyne, signed by Ian Elliott, chief executive officer, National Safeguarding Board for Children, Catholic Church of Ireland. The report was written in the name of the members of the board. Bishop Magee made the report available to us because it makes reference to the Interdiocesan Case Management Advisory Committee of which we are members and in which we therefore have an interest.

One of the tenets of your report is that: "Good child protection practice involves working openly and in a collaborative manner with those agencies who hold the statutory powers to investigate child abuse and to protect children."

The officials of the Diocese of Cloyne have for some time enjoyed a very good working relationship with the senior officers of the HSE and the gardaí in their area and appreciate greatly their essential and important roles. However, it must be acknowledged that because of the constraints of the Constitution and statute and the principle of subsidiarity contained in them, these statutory authorities are limited in the extent and quality of the response available to them in the area of child protection.

Furthermore, the HSE is limited in resources especially in the care of those involved in so-called historic cases. Any analysis of the evil of child sexual abuse that does not recognise this reality is seriously flawed. In the Diocese of Cloyne, a compassionate and comprehensive pastoral response has been available for many years to all affected by clerical child sexual abuse. It is important to note that the fundamental function of the church is to respond as pastor.

The church, and its essential pastoral role, is not an optional participant in society but an integral part thereof as designed and mandated by almighty God. Far from being in conflict with each other, the roles of the church and the statutory agencies of the State are complementary.

Your report makes assertions and assumptions that are false and it makes attributions that are defamatory of the members of the Interdiocesan Case Management Advisory Committee. It also makes very serious omissions which further distort the truth.

Most seriously, your report asserts that: "Children have been placed at risk within the Diocese of Cloyne through the inability of that diocese to respond appropriately to the information that came to it regarding child protection concerns involving the clergy. It failed to act effectively to limit the access to children by individuals against whom credible allegations of child sexual abuse had been made." What is your evidence for these assertions? What evidence does the board have to demonstrate that children have been put at risk?

Your report also asserts: "The competence of those involved in this area of work in the diocese has to be questioned." To whom does this refer and what questions need to be posed? Mr Elliott, chief executive of your board, was twice (February 28th and March 7th, 2008) invited to meet with the Interdiocesan Case Management Advisory Committee in order that he might be introduced to the members and be given an explanation of how it functions. He did not avail himself of the opportunity. His failure to attend occasioned his failure to note the experience and qualifications of the members of the committee and acquaint himself with the nature and extent of their deliberations which extend far beyond issues of child protection.

Your report further asserts: "Any meetings that were convened by the diocese, such as the Child Protection Management Committee, are apparently focused on the needs of the accused priest." This is not true.

It goes on: "There is no documentary evidence that the risk to vulnerable children was discussed or considered at any time by them." It was discussed repeatedly and was a primary concern.

The report continues: "Again, this raises serious doubts about the ability of these groups to perform effectively in this role." What evidence does the board have for this damning assertion?

All your board's assumptions are based on the perusal of two case files. The invitation to members of your board to peruse a comprehensive review of the handling of all cases in the Diocese of Cloyne, compiled by Dr Kevin McCoy, was not taken up.

Your report states that "two serious cases of sexual abuse had been reported to the NSBC on a completely unsolicited basis". Unsolicited they may have been but they are not unconnected.

Both complainants are currently pursuing civil cases against the Bishop of Cloyne. Both are represented by the same firm of solicitors. That firm of solicitors appears to be connected with many of the cases supported by the private organisation which made the complaint "to the Minister regarding the practice of the Diocese of Cloyne in a particular case". Surely the board is not so naive as to expect the litigants in these two cases to speak well of the pastoral initiatives undertaken in their regard or even to advert to them. It could seem that the board is being manipulated.

The board's report makes a most serious omission in neglecting to mention that in the case of Father A, the gardaí undertook an investigation of the complaint made against him but no prosecution was brought.

An even more serious omission in the board's report concerns Father B. The report inexplicably omitted to state that in his case he was investigated three times by the gardaí and on each occasion the DPP failed to prosecute. Furthermore, he has at all times vigorously denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly threatened the bishop and complainants personally and through his solicitors, over a period of many years and is strenuously contesting the High Court proceedings brought against him in which the bishop is caught up. Both priests are relying on their constitutional right to their good name and the presumption of innocence.

What does the board believe that the HSE can do in these circumstances which the bishop has not done already? In its assertion that priests against whom accusations are made can be stood down from ministry, is the board asserting that the bishop can violate canon law and act against a priest's constitutional rights?

Under the heading of Recommendations, your report suggests that the Diocese of Cloyne immediately adopt a safeguarding policy for children. Enclosed for your information is a copy of the diocese's policy of which you are evidently not aware.

Your report also recommends that child protection training should be sourced and provided for those in the diocese who work in child protection. It has already been sourced and provided and continues to be provided.

We, members of the Interdiocesan Case Management Advisory Committee, extend an invitation to all the members of your board to meet with us urgently. If you choose not to do so we will have to consider whether this is not a further expression of recklessness and indifference and disregard for the truth which could be considered as malice as it is known to the law. Your report seriously wrongs the Diocese of Cloyne and our committee. Therefore, if you issue this report in its present form or include its distortions in your forthcoming annual report, we shall have no choice but to seek remedies in either ecclesiastical or secular courts or both.

Yours faithfully,

Very Reverend Gerard Garrett; For and on behalf of: Rt Reverend Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan; Reverend James Moore; Sister Frances Minahan; Sister Anne McCarthy; Ms Catherine Kelly; Mr Brendan O'Brien; Mr TD Hourihane; Mr Diarmaid Ó Catháin; Mr Padraig Hyde