9 April 2006
Writing in the Irish Times on 29 March last, the director of "One in Four" Colm O'Gorman made some remarkable statements in an article headed "There is no evidence to show that the rights of those accused have been abused".
Mr O'Gorman stated: "In the past few months a number of commentators have suggested that grave injustice is being done to priests falsely accused of child sexual abuse. Such suggestions rightly concern fair minded people, but remarkably, no evidence of any kind has been presented to suggest that false allegations are being made or that the rights of those accused are being abused."
Did Mr. O'Gorman never hear of the case of Nora Wall, formerly Sister Dominic of the Sisters of Mercy? In 1999 she became the first woman in the history of the State to be convicted of raping a child AND the first person to get a life sentence for rape. She was also the first person to be convicted on the basis of "Recovered Memory Syndrome". (This kind of evidence is very rare in Ireland but has a long and infamous history in the USA).
Nora Wall was convicted on the word of two women Regina Walsh and her "witness" Patricia Phelan, BOTH of whom had made a string of allegations against other people (mainly relatives and boyfriends). The case started to collapse when they sold their story to The Star newspaper and one of the men who had been accused by Patricia Phelan read it and contacted Nora Wall's family. In December 2005 in the Court of Criminal Appeal, Patricia Phelan finally confessed publicly that she had lied.
In the same newspaper article Regina Walsh stated that she had also been raped by a "black man in Leicester Square". Again it was the first the Defence had heard of this allegation.
At the trial Regina Walsh claimed that one of the rapes occurred on her 12th birthday. She said that Nora Wall held her down while Pablo McCabe raped her. Pablo McCabe was in Mountjoy Prison on that date!! When this was pointed out to the jury they acquitted the two accused on that charge but convicted them on the other allegations. I believe that the only reason for this incredible decision is that Nora Wall had been a nun. Does Colm O'Gorman have an alternative explanation?
Mr. O'Gorman might like to look at the Judgement of the Court of Criminal Appeal on the Nora Wall case. It is dated 16 December 2005 and is readily available on the Internet.
But perhaps the Nora Wall case is just an aberration? Consider the following.
There are wild claims that the Christian Brothers and other religious have murdered up to 'hundreds' of the boys in their care. (For example an interview with Mannix Flynn about Letterfrack Industrial School in the Sunday Independent on 22 December 2002). Gardai at Clifden, Co Galway, investigated claims that there were bodies of boys who had died as a result of foul play buried in the grounds of Letterfrack. Early in 2003, the Gardai reported that they had found no evidence to back this up. Superintendent Tony O'Dowd said: "There was no evidence available that would suggest that foul play led to the deaths of anybody buried inside or outside of the cemetery at the old Industrial School in Letterfrack." He added: "There was no evidence of a mass grave."
Then there was the case of former Letterfrack resident, Willie Delaney. His body was exhumed in April 2001 because of claims that he had died as a result of head wounds inflicted by a Christian Brother. The subsequent autopsy revealed that he had died from natural causes and that there was no evidence of a blow to the head.
The list goes on. Patrick Flaherty, who spent some years in the Holy Family School in Renmore, Co Galway said he made two allegations against members of the Brothers of Charity because of 'false memory syndrome'. He later withdrew the allegations. He has also said that while attending a public meeting of the Laffoy Commission in 2003 he overheard other former residents discussing among themselves whether or not to accuse a particular Brother. Some in the group said the Brother had never abused anyone. Others said he should be accused anyway.
The evidence of Patrick Flaherty was not widely reported in the media (I saw it in the Irish Independent on 1st November 2003 and nowhere else). However as head of "One in Four", surely Colm O'Gorman should be aware of it?
There is no way that Mr. O'Gorman can have missed the allegations about the "killing" of Willie Delaney. The media screamed obscenities at the Christian Brothers. About 20 April 2001, Evening Herald posters were all over the streets of Dublin proclaiming "Now it's Murder Enquiry". Then the autopsy report was published and the entire media dropped the story like a shot. Yet this was a Blood Libel against the Christian Brothers which was no different from Nazi Blood Libels about the Jews.
Did Colm O'Gorman have anything to say at the time? Will he say something now? How can he possibly maintain that "no evidence of any kind has been presented to suggest that false allegations are being made or that the rights of those accused are being abused."
Irish Times, 29 March, 2006 by Colm O'Gorman
There is no evidence to show that the rights of those accused have been abused, writes Colm O'Gorman .
In the past few months a number of commentators have suggested that grave injustice is being done to priests falsely accused of child sexual abuse. Such suggestions rightly concern fair-minded people, but remarkably, no evidence of any kind has been presented to suggest that false allegations are being made or that the rights of those accused are being abused.
The truth is that in the context of child-protection practice, the rights of children are considered paramount, and this means that there may be situations where the rights of those accused of child abuse are infringed upon. The challenge for us all is to ensure that if this happens, our actions are appropriate and measured and we work to properly support those accused.
Injustice can occur occasionally as a result of decisions by those who have acted not with a lack of care or consideration but with integrity. It is not always the case that injustice is the result of corruption or a loss of objectivity. It can instead result from operating in an area that by its nature appropriately recognises the primacy of the rights of one party above the rights of another. This is precisely the dilemma we face within the context of child protection. The focus of child protection is not to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any individual is guilty of child abuse, but to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken to protect children where there are indications of reasonable concern for their welfare.
The particular vulnerability of children, especially in situations where those who might abuse that vulnerability are in positions of authority and high esteem, demands that when investigating allegations of child abuse in the context of child protection, different standards must apply than in criminal investigations.
It appears that many who have commented upon the "stepping aside" of Catholic priests accused of child sexual abuse in recent weeks have failed to appreciate the difference between child protection and criminal justice concerns.
It is of vital importance that such commentators understand that a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute due to a lack of evidence, or indeed an acquittal following a prosecution in any individual case, does not mean there are no valid child-protection concerns. The very nature of child abuse means that more often than not there is a delay in reporting the offence to the authorities. In such cases criminal prosecutions are complex and difficult, there is rarely any forensic evidence, and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is difficult to prove.
In seeking to protect our children we may be forced to act in ways that seem contrary to the rights of those adults accused of child abuse. We must accept that a hierarchy of rights exists in the context of child protection where the rights of children are paramount.
We must, of course, offer support to those accused of child abuse. The best protection we can offer those working with children is a robust and transparent child-protection policy. Such a policy, properly implemented, provides a framework which ensures best practice and informs the way in which we work with children and vulnerable people.
Where any person has been accused of child abuse and is placed on leave to facilitate an investigation, we must ensure that they are appropriately supported and that their rights are considered and, in so far as possible, vindicated.
Writing in this newspaper recently, Nuala O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, suggested that the policy of requiring priests accused of child sexual abuse to stand aside from ministry is unjust. It is a theme on which Ms O'Loan has spoken repeatedly in recent weeks. I have considerable admiration for Mrs O'Loan and her work as police ombudsman but I must express my dismay and astonishment at some of the views she has expressed recently.
She uses language that seems to minimise the awful reality of clerical child abuse on this island. She speaks of "a few priests" and of "the terrible litany of the pain of those abused by a small number of members of the Catholic Church, some of them ordained to priesthood".
It is difficult to understand why she feels it necessary to use such minimising language, especially given the shocking revelations since the publication of the Ferns report that hundreds of priests in Ireland have been accused of child sexual abuse, not a small number by any standard.
In explaining her view that there may be cases where priests should not be required to step aside, Mrs O'Loan refers to cases "where there is a vague allegation, of a less serious nature".
I must confess myself at a loss to understand how any accusation that a priest has abused his authority and behaved in a sexually inappropriate way with children can be anything other than profoundly serious.
Ms O'Loan asserts that there are cases where there is no evidence to be found that an accused priest has in fact perpetrated abuse and where such priests are not permitted to return to work.
She must explain the basis upon which she makes this assertion. Has she reviewed the evidence in such cases? Has she examined the records of criminal investigations and used her considerable expertise to form such a view? Has she examined the files of church inquiries into such cases?
Has she reviewed the results of clinical risk assessments carried out on priests accused of abuse and upon whose recommendations these men are deemed to pose a significant risk to children have been removed from ministry?
If she has, then she must explain the context in which she has become involved in such investigations given her role as police ombudsman. If, however, she has not reviewed files and investigated the cases in which she asserts no evidence of wrongdoing has been found, her recent comments are entirely inappropriate and she should withdraw them fully.
Mrs O'Loan quite rightly commands respect in her role as police ombudsman. It is vital that the standing of her office not be undermined by her as yet unsubstantiated suggestions of grave injustice against priests.
In responding to allegations of child abuse from a child-protection perspective, the focus is not to prove or disprove an allegation to the standards required by the criminal justice system but to objectively evaluate the risk to children on the basis of all available information and evidence.
Such evidence may not be sufficient to secure a criminal conviction but it may result in an assessment that an individual poses a real risk to children. In such cases it would never be appropriate to return a person deemed to be a risk to children to ministry. It is precisely in such circumstances that many priests who have not been found guilty of child sexual abuse have been permanently removed from ministry.
Bishops have been informed in such decisions by clinical assessments which deem these men to be a risk to children.
It is as a direct result of the exposure of the appalling negligence of the past that we are beginning to see some evidence that individual bishops are finally working with integrity to manage the complex issues involved in child protection within a church context. In playing a responsible role in ensuring that recent changes and developments continue to evolve and are sustained, faithful lay Catholics must ensure that their judgment is never again clouded by denial or the minimisation of the true scale of the problem within their church.
It will continue to be discomforting for many as we continue to work together to address the issue of child sexual abuse, both within and beyond the church context. If, however, we can find the capacity to be courageous and compassionate in equal measure as we seek to better understand and respond to this problem, we will not only better protect all of our children, we will also develop better ways to properly andfully consider the needs and rights of all involved.
Colm O'Gorman is founder director of One in Four, the national charity which assists people abused as children.