There’s a very thought-provoking article in today’s Irish Times by Vincent Browne, but before I get to that, a more general point. Have you ever heard anyone suggest that someone who claimed to be the victim of Catholic clerical sex abuse was making it all up? That’s not to say - NOT TO SAY – (capitals there for the hard of hearing) – that widespread Catholic clerical sex abuse didn’t happen. To the shame of those clergy involved, it did. But in all the charges made against Catholic priests, I’ve never read a line where someone – a journalist or otherwise – suggested the possibility that the claim was a fabrication, aka a lie. Why do you think is that? There have been a number of cases where such claims have not stood up in court but I doubt if you could name one of them. Not surprisingly, since they receive very low-profile if any coverage. And yet the lives of those innocent priests are in many instances destroyed.
But back to Vincent Browne. His article today has to do with one of the few cases where a charge of sexual abuse has been proven a lie – that against Fr Kevin Reynolds. In an RTÉ programme, as you know, the priest was accused of rape and of fathering a child on an innocent victim. Reynolds denied the charge, offered to take a paternity test before the programme was aired, but was ignored. The programme was aired, he took the case to court and RTÉ was forced to retract and compensate him. All of this was considered in a report by Anna Carragher, late of this parish. Browne today lambasts the report and the Minister behind the report, Labour’s Pat Rabbitte.
What’s Browne talking about? Wasn’t the report highly critical of RTÉ – and rightly so? It was, but Browne points out a number of things that he believes are disgraceful.
1.The report was legally precluded from looking at how RTÉ handled the issue after the programme had been broadcast. This, Browne says, showed “hubris, arrogance and sheer incompetence” that matched the making of the programme itself.
2. The person conducting the enquiry – Carragher – had no experience of conducting such enquiries south of the border. The result is a report that’s incoherent and inconclusive.
3. A few examples: questions were not asked of all the relevant people, witnesses were not cross-examined, and reporter Aoife Kavanagh was implicitly identified as the major culprit.
4. The report talks about the tone and style of the programme but then doesn’t evaluate these. No comment is made on the slapdash way RTÉ approached a major story- e.g., no consideration of the proofs that’d be needed to substantiate the main elements of the story.
5.The report accepts that the programme-makers had “no commercial motivation” when making the story, even though the question of ratings was clearly important to the makers. (Ratings, by the way, are what attracts advertisers, and you don’t get much more commercial than that.) The ambush of Fr Reynolds in a church car park, the secret filming of the priest, Browne says, aimed for drama rather than a logical case against the priest.
6. What about the fact that the RTÉ board didn’t set up an independent inquiry into the whole affair, neither in response to Fr Reynold’s pre-programme denial and offer to undergo paternity tests, nor to the post-programme proven libel of the priest.
7. Pat Rabbitte, the minister involved, expressed his doubts about the credibility of the RTÉ board (where the buck, one would have thought, stopped), but then a few hours later was content that the board had said they wouldn’t do it again.
Browne is a relentless critic of those things in southern – and northern – society which he sees as wrong. By highlighting not just the wrongful accusation of this priest but the response of the state to those involved in the accusation, he has done the state some service.