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Abuse survivors slate ACP’s ‘mistake’ euphemism

By Sarah Mac Donald - 09 March, 2014

Exclusion of elderly priests from ministry because of a 'mistake' in earlier life questioned.

Marie Collins

Marie Collins

Clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins has said she is shocked that Irish priests in 2014 feel it is right to return a man, who has abused a child in the past, to a position of trust.

Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, she said this kind of attitude was “exactly what led to the devastation of so many young lives over the years.”

Mrs Collins was responding to the Association of Catholic Priests’ description of some incidents of abuse by priests as “mistakes”.

Last Wednesday, the ACP’s Fr Sean McDonagh and Fr Tony Flannery “raised the difficulties around historical allegations” with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, the Church’s watchdog on child protection.

Writing about that meeting on the ACP website, Fr Tony Flannery stated that they had “questioned the justice” of excluding many older priests from ministry “because of a mistake or mistakes they made in their earlier life” where there was “no pattern of re-offending.”

He said they had questioned the witness this gives from a Church, one of whose core teachings is mercy and forgiveness.

The Redemptorist priest said the ACP representatives had also brought up “the reality of false allegations, as we are experiencing them in our work with the ACP.”

However, Marie Collins and other survivors of clerical abuse were outraged by the ACP’s terminology.

She said it was “insulting to adult survivors to refer to the acts that may have destroyed decades of their lives as just ‘mistakes’” and added, “yet this is how the ACP choose to describe them.”

Mrs Collins, who was abused by a Dublin priest as a sick child in Crumlin Hospital, claimed that “all the promises of change, transparency and making child safety a priority are nothing more than a smokescreen for the real underlying attitude” which she said had been shown to be alive and well in the priests of the ACP.

“It is unforgivable that a body representing a large proportion of priests in Ireland would ask their National Board for Safeguarding Children to cover up faults found during their diocesan audits” she said and added that there was “no other way to read their request.”  

“Have our priests learned nothing from the years of heartache and pain suffered by survivors, the Catholic laity and themselves,” she asked.

“They now want to go back to the old ways, we were told the reason that priests’ care was put before child safety in the past was due to being on a ‘learning curve. What can their excuse be now?”

Meanwhile, a priest, who was himself the victim of clerical abuse, described the ACP’s attitude as “Despicable!”

Fr Paddy McCafferty from Belfast accused the ACP, which represents over 1,000 priests in Ireland, of being “completely unmindful of the devastation wrought in the lives of those on the receiving end of your so-called ‘mistakes’.”

Fr McCafferty blasted the ACP’s attitude, stating that any priest who abuses a child “has forfeited the privilege of ministering to God’s People. If he is wise, he will spend the rest of his days in penitence before he has to face God’s Judgement.”

Following the reaction to his comments, Fr Tony Flannery posted a clarification in which he said he fully accepted that the word ‘mistake’ was not the best choice of word.

He explained that he was referring to cases where men with the emotional and sexual development of teenagers had been ordained in their twenties and “where these very immature young priests got into a relationship of this nature.”

He said in some cases this was the only time in their lives that they crossed the line and there were no further allegations made against them.

However, Marie Collins hit back. “Any adult who has sexual contact with a minor is not in a ‘relationship’, it is abuse, legally and morally,” she said.

She added that members of the ACP seem to feel that putting the word “historical” before “abuse” lessens the crime.  

“It does not, child abuse is child abuse, whether it took place a week ago or twenty years ago the victim’s suffering is no different and that man can never be trusted with children again.”

She said the suggestion that perpetrators should be allowed to return to ministry was “exactly the same thinking that led to priests who were known to have abused being moved into a different parish only to abuse again.”

“If a man is known to have abused a child or a minor there cannot be any second chances,” she stated.

Marie Collins added that even when there is one known case, there is no way to be sure that other offences have not been committed and no guarantee the priest might not abuse again in the future.   

“When I reported my priest abuser, I was told by Cardinal Desmond Connell that I could not ‘call him an abuser’ as it happened so long ago, in other words it was ‘historical’,” she recalled.

“This is exactly the same mind set as we are now seeing from the ACP,” she said.  

“I was also told this priest had never touched another child after me. I was even told it would be unfair to my abusing priest’s good name to pursue my report.”

“Time showed how dangerous these attitudes are as it has been shown that my abuser had sexually assaulted other little girls over a period of thirty years. He has been convicted of raping a ten year old twenty five years after his assaults on me.”

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