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Sunday 19 November 2017

Priests facing abuse claims want their accusers named

Sarah MacDonald

PRIESTS accused of sexual abuse want their accusers identified and the allegations against them in writing, a group representing liberal clergymen has said.

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) issued the demand to the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.

In a meeting with the board chief, Ian Elliot, the ACP, which now represents over 1,000 Irish priests, outlined a series of changes it is seeking to the guidelines on the standing aside from ministry for priests accused of abuse.

The group hopes the areas they are unhappy with will be taken into consideration when the interim guidelines come up for review in January.

The ACP believes accused priests need to know the name of their accusers and to see the accusations in writing. They are also seeking changes in the way the news of an allegation is conveyed to a priest.

However, abuse survivor Marie Collins says such changes could deter victims from coming forward, particularly if they know their name is to be given to their abuser before a full investigation is under way.

"It has to be remembered that an abuser has a great deal of power over a victim; the fear of their abuser's anger at being exposed is very real for a victim," said Ms Collins, who was a member of the Lynott Committee which drew up the child protection guidelines, 'Our Children Our Church'.

She suggested that as the accused would know the name of his accuser in time, "it should not be at this very early stage". She recalled that the members of the Lynott Committee were advised by a senior garda that "if the name of the person making the allegation is given to the accused at the first meeting there is a grave danger this will interfere with a subsequent criminal investigation".

She also warned that the changes might lead to the accused priest trying to influence or threaten their accuser.

In its meeting with Mr Elliot, ACP also questioned the use of Mass for announcing that a priest is standing aside, which it warned "almost inevitably leads to the priest being considered guilty".

The association also wants religious superiors to tell a cleric in advance when they are being called in to a meeting to be informed of an allegation. They are urging the church to grant an accused priest the right to have a support person present at these meetings.

Priests are particularly worried about someone who makes an allegation of abuse against them but does not want to pursue the matter or make a statement to the gardai or the PSNI.

"In this situation the priest can be removed from ministry and left in limbo for many years," the ACP said.

Ms Collins said she did have sympathy for priests left in limbo in this scenario.

However, she said if the person making the complaint didn't want to go through with a criminal case, it didn't necessarily mean the accusation was untrue.

"Some victims just cannot face what a trial would involve," she said.

Irish Independent

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