Canon law has same status as golf rules
JUSTICE Minister McDowell bluntly told the Catholic Church yesterday that its canon law had the same status as that of a golf club and did not have superior rights to the civil law of the land.
In a strongly worded comment setting out the Government's stance on the issue of which law takes precedence, the minister said there was only one law to which all of us were subject.
The State's civil law viewed the Catholic Church's own canon law as equivalent to the laws of the Presbyterian Church or the internal rules of a sporting organisation, he said.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern reaffirmed to the Dail that the law of the land applied to everybody "no matter who or what one is or what a person's status is or what they think it is".
Mr Ahern appealed to anyone with information regarding any issues of sexual abuse to give it to the gardai where it would be dealt with under the criminal justice system without fear or favour.
Mr McDowell also criticised the church's interpretation of canon law in a book published in 1995 which had the approval of Cardinal Desmond Connell.
However, a spokesperson for the archdiocese said last night that the book had been overtaken by church guidelines on dealing with sexual abuse which were issued 1996.
These guidelines, which were issued to every diocese in the country, stipulated that the matter should be reported to the civil authorities in all instances where it was known or suspected that a child had been or was being sexually abused by a priest or religious.
In his criticism of canon law, Mr McDowell said church law had the status of rules within an organisation and could be invoked by one member against another.
But he said: "As far as the criminal law of the state is concerned canon law per se has no particular status.
"We simply could not have a situation where a group of people in the interests of the church which they loyally served effectively undertook as of right activities which involved contact by their members with children.
"They can't simply set them aside or apply a different standard to them from that which is generally needed to protect children."
Mr McDowell told RTE's Pat Kenny that the church's laws had virtually no relevance on the question of how it was appropriate or inappropriate to deal with people who were a danger to children.