Msgr O’Callaghan – ‘I should have resigned’ – Paul Keenan

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The Irish Catholic

25 Aug 2011

Paul Keenan

Sixteen years on from the publication of the bishops’ Child Protection Guidlines, the priest charged with being the Cloyne diocese’s Delegate for Child Protection has admitted that he should have resigned as Delegate as he was unable in conscience to fully implement the Guidelines.

In a letter to The Irish Catholic, Msgr Denis O’Callaghan writes about his commitment to Pastoral Care of priests and how this came in conflict with the demands of the 1996 Guidelines to report to the statutory authorities.

He writes: “Judge Yvonne Murphy was made aware of the Cloyne commitment to Pastoral Care but the Commission focussed on its remit of reporting on whether or not procedures were fulfilled. In hindsight I accept that I should have resigned on the point of principle from my role as Delegate once I came to realise the implications of the 1996 Guidelines for the overriding duty of Pastoral Care.”

Msgr O’Callaghan states that he argued in the drafting stages of the 1996 Guidelines that the ‘form of mandatory reporting’ required compromised the ‘Christian duty of Pastoral Care’. He says in Cloyne many of the complaints referred to elderly or dead priests. “For most of those priests accused in Cloyne the complaints alleged incidents dating back over thirty or forty years. Of those priests some would now be terminally ill while others would be under constant medical care. The literal Guidelines did not allow for any discretion to Bishops and to their Delegates. Reporting was to be made immediately. No exception was to be made even when an accused priest was on his death-bed. The plea that there was no further risk to children was not a protection against a charge of cover-up! You can imagine the reaction of a medical team to this intransigence on my part.”

He adds: “A somewhat similar problem arose where a traumatized complainant was not yet prepared to have the report submitted to Garda immediately. Here some time and counselling should surely be justified until the complainant came to accept the need to make the report. Meantime the priest would be informed of the complaint and the necessary steps taken to remove him from ministry where he would have unsupervised access to children.”

In a further note he says: “There were some cases, as in those mentioned above, where as a Christian one was duty bound to extend Pastoral Care to anyone in sore need. Otherwise one could not live with one’s conscience. With many others I winced when understandably angry people expressed the wish that an accused priest would burn in hell.”

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