Thursday 17 October 2019

Killala diocese records only a small number of abuse allegations

Caroline Crawford

THE Review of Safeguarding Practice within the Diocese of Killala found only a small number of allegations of abuse.

The report revealed that allegations were made against three priests in the Diocese with only four allegations received.

Three of these allegations were reported to gardai while only one was reported to the HSE. No convictions resulted from the allegations.

Two of the priests against whom allegations were made are still alive. The third was deceased at the time the allegation was made anonymously.

One of the priests who faced allegations remains in ministry. The other is out of ministry but remains a member of the Diocese.

“The Diocese of Killala is different from other dioceses and religious orders reviewed by NBSCCCI to date, in that it has received very few allegations of child abuse. In total there were three allegations received, one anonymous against a deceased priest and two against living priests,” the report stated.

Despite the low number of complaints, the reviewers concluded that complainants had the same opportunities as in other dioceses to raise their concerns about child abuse by a priest in the Diocese of Killala.

“In reviewing the two allegations received against living priests it was noted prompt reporting to both the An Garda Síochána and HSE by the diocese in one case and in the other case the information was forwarded to the diocese by the HSE. The diocese thereafter promptly reported the matter to the An Garda Síochána. There has been considerable consultation with both agencies on the management of the allegations,” added the report.

The review found that Killala had met 45 out of the 48 criteria.

The report also referenced a legal precedent that was set in the case of a Killala priest. It related to the disclosure of the identity of the complainant to the respondent priest.

In this case the HSE had decided not to share the complainant’s identity with the diocese or the accused priest. It only provided the identity to the bishop two months following the initial receipt of the allegation and would not allow him to share this information with the accused priest.

“For the diocese and of course the priest, this led to serious questions about natural justice and his right to defend himself. Bishop Fleming was in the most difficult position of having to take protective action by considering removing the priest from ministry without being able to share with him the full details of the complaint. The matter was brought to the High Court by the priest’s legal representatives and the HSE position was rejected,” the report added.

The report also praised the role of Bishop John Fleming stating that it was the first time reviewers had seen a “canonical decree” signed by the bishop restricting a priest from ministry.

“In other dioceses and religious orders, reviewers saw precepts and references in letters to decrees, but this was the first occasion of the reviewers reading a decree under canon law. Bishop Fleming is a canon lawyer and his training was much in evidence in his practice,” it read.

Killala Diocese is part of the Tuam metropolitan area covering parts of Mayo and Sligo. It has just 22 parishes in the diocese. An audit of the Diocese of Killala was unable to review cases prior to 1987 as no records exist.

Welcoming the findings, Bishop Fleming said; "I am encouraged greatly by the findings of the Review; that the highest standards of best practice are now in place in this diocese. The aims of this diocese are to ensure a safe environment for children and young people, where risks are minimized, where those affected by abuse are supported, where offenders are brought to justice and where all allegations are dealt with justly and promptly."

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