Irish priests hit back at anti-abuse measures

A growing number of priests are protesting about "over-strict" interpretations by bishops of Church guidelines on dealing with those accused of child sex abuse.

They believe priests are too often stood aside from ministry - and their reputations irreparably damaged - on the basis of flimsy allegations, Catholicireland.net reports.

The National Conference of Priests of Ireland president Fr John Littleton said there are also priests who believe that the Our Children Our Church document on child protection, published recently by the bishops, was "not fair where clergy was concerned".

He said priests seem to be singled out for particular public notoriety when it comes to allegations, and "the real damage is done" when the innocent are involved. He criticised the slow pace of State inquiries following allegations, which he said compounded the notoriety and delayed justice.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, was confronted repeatedly by "angry and very upset" priests on the issue at meetings in the archdiocese in recent weeks. Priests expressed anxiety that they appeared to be without any rights in the context of allegations.

More than 100 priests attended a 19 February meeting on the issue at Clonliffe College in Dublin, called by one of the 16 Dublin deaneries. Barrister Ed Morgan told them that, in the bishops' document on child protection, "there is little to indicate that the rights of the accused have been materially and substantially accommodated".

Mr Morgan said: "It is perhaps regrettable that the only reference to human rights [in the document] is child specific."

It is understood that at his recent meetings with priests in Dublin, Dr Martin emphasised that an accused priest did indeed have rights, which includes the right not to say anything when accused. The accused are also supplied with a list of canon and civil lawyers, whose costs would be covered by the Church.

A priest will only be stood aside from ministry when the allegations are credible, Dr Martin said.

'Over-strict' interpretation of guidelines angers priests (catholicireland.net/Irish Times 13/3/06)

Our Children Our Church - Policy Guidelines (PDF)

Dublin sex-abuse cases costing millions (CathNews 9/3/06)
Irish probe finds abuse cover-up in Catholic Church (CathNews 26/10/05)

Bishops to take lead and offer their names for vetting under the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults legislation / Church to host seminar in Belfast on child protection and developing care for victims of abuse (Catholic Communications 13/3/06)
Bishops in child protection vetting move (Irish Times 13/3/06)
Jury in trial of former Catholic brother retires for the night (Radio New Zealand 13/3/06)
Teacher vetting campaign lagging (The Age 14/3/06)
Catholic brother sexual abuse trial enters final stages (Radio New Zealand 10/3/06)

14 Mar 2006