Breda O’Brien: What happened to Pat Carey was a long time in the making

Religious have long been subjected to similar treatment by media and the Church

Fr Kevin Reynolds meeting with parishioners after Mass after he was welcomed back to his ministry in Saint Cuan’s Church in Ahascragh in 2011. It was fortunate for him that DNA testing cleared his name. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Fr Kevin Reynolds meeting with parishioners after Mass after he was welcomed back to his ministry in Saint Cuan’s Church in Ahascragh in 2011. It was fortunate for him that DNA testing cleared his name. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

 

It is amazing that commentators are declaring that the publication of allegations against Pat Carey marks a new low in journalism.

Does no one remember a priest being doorstepped after a First Holy Communion and being asked on camera about allegations he had raped and impregnated a young woman?

Those allegations were broadcast on RTÉ’s now infamous Mission to Prey programme, even though Fr Kevin Reynolds vehemently protested his innocence.

It was fortunate for him that DNA testing cleared his name. Otherwise, his life would have been destroyed, instead of just seriously damaged.

RTÉ has apologised for that appalling error of judgment, but it reflected a mindset that is not confined to RTÉ.

For example, I remember my shock when another priest was named in the headlines of broadcast news and in newspapers as being required to “step aside” while allegations were being investigated.

No charges had been brought. How, I thought, could anyone who is innocent recover from this. How can a human being be destroyed like this and no one protests?

In that case, the DPP said, in a remarkably short space of time, there was no case to answer, but it was some time before the priest resumed his ministry in the church.

What happened to Carey in terms of media exposure is a disgrace, but it is the absolutely predictable outcome of a long-time decline in media standards, aptly summed up by Kevin Myers: “Priests and nuns to be found guilty as charged.”

False allegation

Nora Wall

She spent four days in prison serving a life sentence before, in a sensational about-turn, she was released. No one believed McCabe when he said it was a false allegation. Very few had believed Nora Wall. The media coverage was appalling.

It took until 2005 for the State to fully acknowledge the wrong done to Nora Wall and Paul McCabe. The State has yet to compensate Nora Wall.

The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is vital to democracy.

When individuals belong to an unpopular group, it is even more important to be scrupulously fair. False allegations are rare, but everyone is entitled to his or her good name until proven guilty.

The media has questions to answer on this, but so has the church. After decades of prioritising secrecy and not giving scandal over the needs of children, in some cases it then over-reacted.

There were cases where priests were forced to step aside even before any attempt was made to establish if allegations were credible.

Safety of children

However, a lay person who is accused will not also have to leave his home and community in the way a priest will. A lifetime of service can be wiped out with one unsubstantiated allegation, and even if the person is cleared, the strain can be devastating.

The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church issued guidelines in 2013 on “Leave and Restriction from Sacred Ministry and Apostolate”.

These guidelines state that a priest or religious may be asked to withdraw from any form of public ministry, or to stop wearing clerical garb, but crucially, the credibility of the allegation must be investigated and the potential risk to children assessed.

In the past, some priests have been asked to step aside in the absence of these steps, and the allegations were then quickly proven to be false. To my knowledge, some of them never received an apology. In a church that calls itself Christian, this is a disgrace.

I am aware of the updating of the church’s safeguarding policy, which will, I understand, contain a new standard concerning the care and management of priests and religious who are the subject of allegations, as well as the care of people making allegations.

This is as a direct result of learning from painful mistakes. It is a good development, but of little comfort to those treated badly in the past.

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