independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Falsely accused priest highlights abuse dilemma

THE grotesque figure of Paul Anderson, convicted of making the false accusation that a priest buggered him, received a four-year sentence for his lies.

Rightly so. His mendacity damaged not only the unfortunate priest who lived under the darkest of clouds for four years but this liar and failed extortionist also deeply hurt those who have been genuine victims of clerical sexual abuse.

The case may deter victims coming forward to make a valid complaint because of the fear they will not be believed. It will raise fears in the minds of vulnerable and damaged abuse victims that if they are not believed by the State authorities and are unable to prove abuse which occurred many years ago that they will become the accused.

Yet the DPP was absolutely right to pursue Anderson for his lies. On the other side of the coin there are many religious who have been falsely accused of sexual or physical abuse while those who gave false witness against them have got away with it.

The case raises many questions - not least for the organisation One-in-Four whose good work on behalf of victims has been tainted. The organisation's unwitting complicity in championing Paul Anderson in his bid to extort money from the church has reduced its standing in the eyes of many.

The powerful testimony of the priest in his Victim Impact Statement makes salutary reading and bears repeating: "To me personally, this was like a case of armed robbery. The accuser was using my name and reputation in order to extract money from the church.

"As I said at the outset, and I repeat again: I would honestly have preferred if the perpetrator had shot me through the head rather than put me and my family through the pangs of anxiety and the profound sufferings we have endured over the last four years.

"When he went with One-in-Four to Archbishop's House armed with his accusation it hair-triggered the church's guidelines - with immediate devastating effect on me and on the practice of my priesthood.

"I was instantly and publicly suspended from my ministry. So without any due process, my diocese, in this Guantanamo Bay reaction, had me stand aside from my work as a priest. I had to leave my home and stay with family and friends and I lost almost a year out of my pastoral work," the priest said.

Paul Anderson, now 34, claimed the priest had buggered him while giving him First Holy Communion prayer tuition more than 25 years ago. The allegations, made four years ago, were untrue but, as the priest outlined in his statement to the court, he was instantly and publicly suspended from ministry while the claims were investigated. The jury returned a 10-2 majority guilty verdict after deliberating for almost six hours at the end of a 17-day trial.

Anderson - of Crumlin Park, Crumlin, and formerly of Fatima Mansions and Iveagh Trust Flats, New Bride Street, Dublin - had denied falsely accusing the priest. This ensured that the innocent cleric had to endure the pain of hearing the false accusations being repeated and analysed in forensic detail during the trial.

In his statement, the priest said he hoped the result would not stop genuine victims of child sexual abuse from coming forward.

This unfortunate priest's Gethsemane-like anguish prompted calls to Joe Duffy's 'Liveline', including a moving contribution from a a man called Fergus whose brother, a priest, also found himself a victim of false accusations.

Fergus spoke of the devastation suffered by his brother and his family and revealed that, despite his brother being found innocent of all charges by the church and State authorities, the DPP has not pressed charges against his accuser.

Phil Garland, Director of Child Protection Services with the Archdiocese of Dublin, said that new guidelines are in place for the last two years.

Mr Garland said that the church's actions followed discussions with all relevant authorities, including the HSE and the gardai, over whether it is appropriate for the priest to temporarily step aside while accusations are investigated.

It is an extraordinary dilemma for the church, which is faced with the most difficult decision.

Does the church let a priest continue his ministry in the light of unproven allegations or do they suspend him immediately from his pastoral work?

If they don't suspend they face accusations of not taking theallegations seriously and allowing a potential molester to keep on molesting. If they immediately suspend a priest who may be innocent are they not guilty of a rush to judgement?

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