Wednesday 22 May 2019

Maurice Dooley: Bishops were not obliged to tell gardai of abuse

Mgr Maurice Dooley

There is no justification for the campaign demanding episcopal resignations

THE media have been very successful in the past year or so in forcing resignations of politicians for perceived transgressions of political correctness.

But there is something unseemly in their applying the same techniques to force episcopal resignations, playing a kind of game of skittles with the bishops to see how many of them they can knock down and crow over their downfall.

This begs the question: why should anyone resign his office?

I would assume that it is because he is guilty of doing something wrong for such an office-holder.

The usual charge is that of being guilty of a 'cover-up'.

But what is a cover-up?

It is surely the fact of denying information to someone (the gardai, the Health Service Executive, the media, or the public) who are entitled to get this information.

This begs the further question: did the office-holder (in this case the bishop or other clergy) have any obligation to reveal this information to the gardai?

The answer to this is simply 'no', they had no obligation under Irish law to tell the gardai anything -- there is no statute or common law requiring them to do so.

The Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation, under Judge Yvonne Murphy, admits to this in section 1.16 of her report: "There is no legal requirement for such reporting . . . it is clear that the commission would prefer the law to be otherwise."

But the law of the land in 1975 did not provide for "mandatory reporting" by anyone and still does not in 2010.

So there is no bishop 'guilty' of a 'cover-up', and still less of a 'criminal cover-up'.

The events of 1975 were an internal in-camera investigation, taking evidence to support a tribunal process to strip Brendan Smyth of his faculties to act as a priest.

And it would have been a dereliction of his duties for any member of such an investigation to report the information acquired to anyone outside the tribunal.

But there would be no bar on those who gave evidence going, then or later, to the gardai, the health authorities, the media or anyone else to report their experience of abuse.

This they would be perfectly entitled to do personally, through their parents or anyone else.

Since canon law normally debars minors under 14 from being admitted to give evidence, I would like more detail on the alleged oath of secrecy that the children were required to take before I would accept it as true.

I would regard any such oath as inappropriate for such young children.

There is therefore no justification for the campaign demanding episcopal resignations.

Mgr Maurice Dooley is a retired parish priest and canon lawyer

Irish Independent

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