Martin 'regret' over resignation
Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin has said he regrets a recent decision by a child safeguarding representative to step down after learning a priest in her area had been on “restricted ministry” for years after child sex abuse allegations were made against him.
Dr Martin said the case in a Dublin Catholic parish was “a classic example of the lacunas that exist in our current legislation” as he was restricted from sharing information about the priest as it was not sufficient to result in a conviction.
“There is a real need to update our legislation which respect the rights of individuals but also respects and covers the need to share information with those who have responsibility,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Pat Kenny programme.
Dr Martin said there was a “very serious difficulty” around soft information and legislation had been promised for some time. Soft information is material not strong enough to base a prosecution or conviction but indicates a concern over the suitability of a person to have access to children.
The priest in question was the subject of a chapter in the 2009 Murphy report on clerical sexual abuse.
Two complaints against the priest, given the pseudonym Fr Benito, were addressed by the Murphy commission. One concerned an alleged sexual assault against a 15-year-old boy in 1988. The second concerned an alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl. In October 2002 the DPP decided not to prosecute in either case.
Afterwards, Fr Benito was allowed to serve in the parish following advice from the Granada Institute, which dealt with priest abusers and has since closed. It recommended that, should Fr Benito return to ministry, he “be required to avoid any informal relationship and friendships with young people and that he be supervised by an experienced priest for at least two years”.
The priest’s history only came to light last month when some in the parish became concerned on being informed by the archdiocese that Fr Benito was standing aside from ministry as it had new information on him.
The great majority of parishioners remain unaware of this, as no statement has been made publicly on the matter. It is understood that this is for legal reasons.
Dr Martin said he received new information about the priest that led him to reassess allegations against him dating back some 10 years. He said after reviewing the information, he immediately took action by asking the priest to leave his ministry.
Prior to the action, the priest had been visited on a regular basis by officials from the Dublin Archdiocese and his case had been kept under review, Dr Martin said.
According to interim guidelines for such cases, published last February by the National Board for Safeguarding Children and adopted by the Irish Catholic bishops, “the Bishop/Congregational leader (in this instance Dr Martin) is responsible for what is communicated and how this is communicated . . .”
For legal reasons Fr Benito, his parish, its former child safeguarding representative and its parish priest cannot be named.
Dr Martin said the situation around passing on soft information was becoming more and more complex.
“The most recent norms that have come from the National Board [for Safeguarding Children] leave many more options and decisions that have to be made and make it much more difficult for a bishop who is trying to do what is possible but finds himself in a legal quagmire because of the fact the law is inadequate as it doesn’t address the individual rights of people who may be accused and the need to take action and share information," he said.
“In this particular case, we opted for a compromise situation and that was to inform those in the parish who needed to know, and for that we got [legal] permission. The information we were allowed to communicate was very vague.”
Dr Martin said he made a “prudential decision” and the most important thing was the priest was removed from active ministry even though the sharing of information about the circumstances had to be limited. “There was a huge amount of legal pressure put on me by the [priest’s] side,” he said.
He said he fully understood the position of the child safeguarding representative in stepping down as she “felt betrayed by the fact that she did not have this information”.
Dr Martin said he met the woman last week and intended to meet the parish pastoral council in the near future.