Saturday, July 21, 2007

Priests should be treated as innocent until proved guilty

from the Catholic Herald
The Catholic Church in England and Wales is under fire again this week for its failure to deal with allegations of child abuse. Five years ago, the Nolan Report forced the bishops to adopt extremely strict guidelines which – not to put too fine a point on it – treated an accused priest as guilty until proved innocent. A new body, the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (Copca), was set up to implement those guidelines.
Now an independent panel chaired by the former Tory health minister Baroness Cumberlege has reported that fears of false allegations are discouraging priests from working with children. The latest figures strongly suggest that most priests accused of abuse are, in fact, innocent. In 2006, police investigated 41 allegations, which resulted in one conviction. Yet, in the vast majority of cases, a priest is bundled out of his parish as soon as an accusation is made, and his chances of returning to his job, and restoring his good name, are slim even when it becomes obvious that no crime was ever committed.
We do not want to go into the detail of this matter, except to say two things. First, that Copca has had an almost impossible task, damned if it did and damned if it didn’t; it has certainly treated some priests unfairly, but the Nolan recommendations are partly to blame for that. Second, that the Church must find some way of combining stringent child protection procedures with a presumption of innocence enshrined in Canon Law. We need a proper debate about how to distinguish malicious and patently false allegations from ones that require criminal charges. The sacrifice of an innocent priest’s good name is a terrible thing.


Anonymous said...

It must be so easy to accuse a Priest these days & whilst there have been a couple of proved local cases here..what about the majority of innocent Priests?They must be protected too!

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

"The sacrifice of an innocent priest's good name is a terrible thing."

Surely the most profound words I have ever read on a Catholic blogspot.
A very terrible thing indeed.
So terrible, I wonder that the false accuser is not guilty of a "reserved sin".
Or do we not have such things nowadays ?

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

I agree with you. The whole sex abuse episode has left innocent Catholic priests very vulnerable to false accusations – made by pranksters, score-settlers, the deranged, and in North America (where millions of dollars in damages are up for grabs), gold-diggers.

The only people who are really protected by current “child protection” arrangements aren’t children and vulnerable adults, but the bishops who can boast about “best practice.”

I have always regarded the completely blameless Catholic priests – the overwhelming majority – as the “hidden victims” of the sex abuse scandals. What is the Catholic Church doing to help them in wake of the crisis?

Thank you to all our faithful priests in these difficult times.

Anonymous said...

In the 1990s, my brother was in a minor seminary where the former Provincial of the order - yes, the former Provincial of the order - was abusing youths regularly. For some, tolerating his affections was an explicit condition for them receiving scholarships. My brother was so shocked and baffled by what he saw - he himself escaped the priest's attentions - that it took some time to get the story out of him.

The reason that priests are assumed to be guilty until proved innocent is that the Catholic hierarchy has cultivated - and indeed does in some parts still cultivate - a culture of impunity. It has fostered a climate in which it steadfastly refused to, and in some cases still steadfastly refuses to, purge itself of its bad apples, or even to rein them in, and consequently only has itself to blame when it enjoys little, or even no, credibility. When the same institution was damning contraception, divorce, condoms, and more, it does seem that it was preaching one set of values, and acquiescing to another.

The priests suffering because the Church has lost its good name are right to be angry, but they should blame the bishops who brought this on them, and not the outside world.
To my jaundiced ear, the complaints alleging unfairness by the secular world are as trite as a prostitute bemoaning her having caught VD.

Philip Andrews said...

Thank God! At last some rational argument about this situation.
There is no doubt at all that child abuse is wicked sin. Nevertheless, to bear false witness is also a grave sin. It makes me wonder whether either group of sinners actually fear God and fear for the salvation of their souls.

Anonymous said...

'The sacrifice of an innocent priest's good name is a terrible thing.'

Yes and so is the spiritual, mental, sexual and physical abuse priest's inflict on children and vulnerable adults taught to trust priests above all others. Having been abused by a priest myself I know how they work the system to cover their tracks. I said nothing for fear of not being believed - my word agaisnt that of a 'good priest' - who would you believe?