THE Catholic Church authorities need to distinguish between a paedophile priest and the cleric who committed "a minor indiscretion" with a teenager 30 or more years ago, it was claimed yesterday.
At a private meeting in Claremorris, Co Mayo, yesterday, the new Association of Catholic Priests challenged the policy of Irish bishops requiring a priest to automatically step aside from office if a child abuse complaint or suspicion is lodged against the cleric.
They passed a resolution which throws down the gauntlet to the Irish Conference of Bishops and the Vatican.
Spokesman Father Tony Flannery, an outspoken Redemptorist priest, said many priests who attended the regional meeting expressed sympathy with colleagues who had been excluded from ministry even though their behaviour since the alleged complaint had been blameless.
The 45 priests spent a lot of the time debating how bishops and religious superiors handled allegations of child abuse levelled against colleagues. Last night Fr Flannery said there was a strong feeling that a distinction needed to be made between the paedophile and the man who had behaved inappropriately towards a teenager three decades ago.
He told the Irish Independent that the sexual advance by a priest on a child was damaging for the child, but he insisted that a distinction had to be made between the serial paedophile priest and the immature young cleric knowing nothing about sexuality who made a mistake.