Sunday 26 February 2017

Accused priest given access to confidential complaint report

John Cooney Religion Correspondent

A PRIEST last night denied he acted improperly in giving an alleged paedophile cleric access to confidential complaints made against him by a woman.

Fr Bill Bermingham, the child protection officer of the crisis-hit diocese of Cloyne, defended his action as being in line with both Catholic Church and state child protection guidelines.

But Fr Bermingham said he was "deeply upset" that the woman felt distressed by his passing on of details of her ordeal to the accused priest before he was questioned by gardai.

"This was never my intention," said Fr Bermingham in a statement after the revelations about his interview with the woman in May 2009 had thrown the Catholic Church's protection procedures in disarray.

The phone line of the church's National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) was unattended last night as efforts were made by its chief executive, Ian Elliott, to hold a meeting with Fr Bermingham.

It was only when the woman discovered Fr Bermingham's "appalling" misuse of her statement that she protested to Mr Elliott's office.

Victims of abuse yesterday reacted furiously to the revelations claiming that Fr Bermingham's action could undermine criminal proceedings against the unnamed cleric.

In 2008, Fr Bermingham was appointed as a new broom to sweep away cover-ups after Mr Elliott 'outed' former Bishop of Cloyne John Magee for conducting "inadequate and in some respects dangerous" protection policies, which put children at risk in schools and parishes.

Horrified

One in Four chief executive Maeve Lewis said she was "horrified" by the actions of the diocese.

"This action may not have broken specific church protocol, but it is a horrific betrayal of a victim," said Ms Lewis.

Last night, Fr Bermingham said he was reluctant to speak publicly about an individual allegation.

"This allegation was notified to me by (abuse counselling organisation) Faoiseamh in May 2009," said Fr Bermingham.

"On the same day, I reported it to the gardai and the HSE. On the following day, in accordance with current policy, the accused priest was stood aside from ministry to allow the allegation to be investigated."

Fr Bermingham said he met the woman in June 2009, and after recording her complaint and having the complainant verify its accuracy, he did not receive a reply.

"I again met with the accused priest to inform him of the substance of the allegation against him," Fr Bermingham added.

"To ensure that the complaint was accurately and clearly conveyed, I read to him my notes of my meeting with the complainant. The accused priest subsequently requested a copy of these notes, as was his entitlement.

"When I furnished this record, this was not in any way connected to the garda investigation or to a pending garda interview with the accused priest."

Fr Bermingham insisted he did not know at that time when the gardai intended to interview the accused priest.

The victim has said Fr Bermingham's actions caused her further trauma.

"I feel like I have been run over by a number of trains in the way I have been treated by the church in the past year," she said. "I am so angry and appalled any information about me could be passed on to anyone else. Yet I am told no criminal law was broken. Where is the justice for the likes of us?"

Irish Independent

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