January 27, 2005

Eamonn McCann: Blaming Derry bishop is letting the Catholic Church off the hook

Belfast Telegraph

27 January 2005
Some of the criticism of the Bishop of Derry, Seamus Hegarty, for his handling of sex abuse allegations against a priest has been misplaced. The man who must shoulder most of the blame is the Pope.

The bishop was merely following orders from the Vatican.

The line of the Vatican is that the interests of the victims of clerical sex abuse are to be given low priority when compared to the interests of the Catholic Church.

The allegations which have come to light over the past fortnight, as a result of the journalistic endeavour of Donna Deeney of the Derry Journal, are grave. The gravest concern the behaviour, not of the priest but of the diocese in dealing with the priest.

This allegation is that even after the diocesan authorities had acknowledged the priest's sexual abuse of an 18-year-old, he was given a role in a support group for victims of abuse, including sexual abuse.

Dr Hegarty has been less than forthcoming in explaining the thinking behind this sequence of events.

One key to understanding the matter is found in a law promulgated by the Vatican in May, 2001, just as the depth of the Church's worldwide sex abuse crisis became evident.

The new law changed the way bishops are permitted to handle abuse allegations. Three changes are directly relevant to Derry:

All information about such cases was henceforth to come within the ambit of "pontifical secret" and to be sent to the Vatican. Previously, there had been no special secrecy provisions regarding sex abuse cases.

Bishops were no longer allowed to process sex abuse cases under the general provisions of Canon Law but had to obtain permission from the Vatican to move beyond a preliminary investigation.

Posted by kshaw at January 27, 2005 07:28 AM