Saturday 20 January 2018

Broadcaster irresponsible in its actions

ON SUNDAY I attended the Ordination to the Priesthood of a friend of mine in Mullingar. Fr Kevin Heery was ordained for the diocese of Meath, one of the few dioceses in Ireland to have a priest ordained this year. Kevin is a young man, with the world of opportunities before him, and he has chosen to dedicate his life to ministering to people, and bringing some of God's love to areas where it is needed most. It won't be an easy life for him, by any means, and indeed he's becoming a priest when it is probably the most unpopular time to do that. One might be forgiven for thinking that he was a bit mad!

Last week, RTE broadcast a short segment before its current affairs programme 'Prime Time Investigates'. It was an apology to another Fr Kevin, the Parish Priest of Ahascragh in Co. Galway, Fr Kevin Reynolds. In a previous broadcast back in May, 'Prime Time Investigates' accused the priest of raping a minor named Veneranda while he was a missionary in Kenya and fathering a child named Sheila as a result of this rape.

As a result of the programme, Fr Reynolds had to stand down from ministry and was removed as the parish priest of Ahascragh. He had to leave his home and his parish. Following paternity tests and other investigations, RTE broadcast their apology saying that 'RTE now fully and unreservedly accepts that the allegations made by Prime Time against Fr. Kevin Reynolds are baseless, without any foundation whatever and untrue.' Fr Reynolds resumed his position in Ahascragh at the weekend, and has begun to rebuild his life and his reputation and recover from his terrible ordeal.

But consider this - what if DNA testing did not exist? What if there was no way of doing paternity tests and Fr Reynolds couldn't prove his innocence? In short, Fr Reynolds now be an outcast, he would be shunned by everyone, and he would effectively be forced into exile. His life would be destroyed forever. And what of RTE? Aoife McCarthy, the journalist at the centre of the story, would probably be getting awards at ceremonies and her bosses would be rewarded handsomely for such fantastic investigative journalism. Instead, High Court proceedings will continue, and Fr Kevin will rightly win a defamation case against RTE, and most likely be awarded compensation along with his costs. The TV license-payer will have to foot the bill for this shocking and totally irresponsible broadcast by RTE. What interested me most was the reaction following the 'apology' in the media and across the political spectrum.

Did any political party call for an investigation, for heads to roll in RTE? No. Did any newspaper editorial raise the issue? Not on your life. Will it be raised in the houses of the Oireachtas? I wouldn't hold my breath. So where was the outcry of horror at an innocent man being parodied and vilified like this? The answer is: nowhere. That's a very sad reality, but that's the way it goes nowadays. Simply put, because of the horrific history of abuse by some members of the clergy, and its criminal mishandling by the authorities in charge, the presumption of innocence that should apply to everyone, is suspended when it comes to members of the Church. It's a case of 'guilty until proven innocent' unfortunately.

The end result is that RTE can get away with this kind of irresponsible journalism, and a man's life can be destroyed. While everyone would agree that the safeguarding of children must be the paramount concern, removing a man from his home and his job, on foot of RTE's false allegations, in this case seems quite bizarre. In fact, any priest could find themselves in the same situation in the morning, if someone decided to contrive a similar allegation against them, that was, as RTE admitted, ' baseless, without any foundation whatever and untrue'. It's an unfortunate reality that priests find themselves in today, but that's the legacy of the sins of the past generations.

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