Catholic Church's new guidelines
Madam, - Those who criticise the Irish bishops' document Our Children, Our Church for its supposed absence of direction on mandatory reporting appear to be missing two essential points.
Firstly, at paragraph 8.6.1, on page 46 of the document, there is a clear direction to a person "working in any capacity in the Church" to whom an allegation of child abuse is made that: "the person who receives an allegation of child abuse should actively encourage the person who is making it to report the matter to the civil authorities. Appropriate arrangements should be made to support them in doing so, if this is what they wish. Should the person making the allegation be under 18 years of age, their parent or guardian can make a statement on their behalf."
This is by far the best way of dealing with an allegation of child abuse - the complainant himself or herself directly reporting the matter to the Health Service Executive and to the Garda for investigation and action by them.
Secondly, when an allegation of child abuse is made "to a person working in any capacity in the Church" it is reasonable, particularly if the complainant declines or refuses to report it directly to the civil authorities himself or herself, that the matter be investigated by a designated person on behalf of the Church authorities, that person being the Church's director of child protection, to ensure that there are reasonable grounds for concern before the Church takes the responsibility for reporting the allegation to the civil authorities.
This is a serious matter requiring a professional approach in order that the reputation of an innocent person is not irreparably damaged. False allegations have been made against clergy and others in the past. The prosecution of Nora Wall is a case in point involving a wrongful conviction in the Central Criminal Court which had to be later set aside and then certified by the court as a miscarriage of justice.
Apart from all of that, a person who, without reasonable and probable cause, instigates a prosecution against someone who turns out to be innocent is left liable to a civil action for damages for malicious prosecution. I think that the church is right to make inquiry if necessary before reporting to the civil authorities.
Our Children, Our Church at paragraph 8.6.2 does, however, envisage circumstances in which the director of child protection will, where there are reasonable grounds for concern, "report the allegation to the civil authorities immediately". - Yours, etc,
JOHN A. KEHOE, Law Library, Four Courts, Dublin 7.