COLM O'GORMAN AND FALSE ACCUSERS OF PRIESTS - THE CASE OF PAUL ANDERSON
Falsely Accused Priest Highlights Abuse Dilemma
Sunday Independent July 01 2007 by Jerome Reilly
THE grotesque figure of Paul Anderson, convicted of making the false accusation that a priest buggered him, received a four-year sentence for his lies.
Rightly so. His mendacity damaged not only the unfortunate priest who lived under the darkest of clouds for four years but this liar and failed extortionist also deeply hurt those who have been genuine victims of clerical sexual abuse.
The case may deter victims coming forward to make a valid complaint because of the fear they will not be believed. It will raise fears in the minds of vulnerable and damaged abuse victims that if they are not believed by the State authorities and are unable to prove abuse which occurred many years ago that they will become the accused.
Yet the DPP was absolutely right to pursue Anderson for his lies. On the other side of the coin there are many religious who have been falsely accused of sexual or physical abuse while those who gave false witness against them have got away with it.
The case raises many questions - not least for the organisation One-in-Four whose good work on behalf of victims has been tainted. The organisation's unwitting complicity in championing Paul Anderson in his bid to extort money from the church has reduced its standing in the eyes of many.
The powerful testimony of the priest in his Victim Impact Statement makes salutary reading and bears repeating: "To me personally, this was like a case of armed robbery. The accuser was using my name and reputation in order to extract money from the church.
"As I said at the outset, and I repeat again: I would honestly have preferred if the perpetrator had shot me through the head rather than put me and my family through the pangs of anxiety and the profound sufferings we have endured over the last four years.
"When he went with One-in-Four to Archbishop's House armed with his accusation it hair-triggered the church's guidelines - with immediate devastating effect on me and on the practice of my priesthood.
"I was instantly and publicly suspended from my ministry. So without any due process, my diocese, in this Guantanamo Bay reaction, had me stand aside from my work as a priest. I had to leave my home and stay with family and friends and I lost almost a year out of my pastoral work," the priest said.
Paul Anderson, now 34, claimed the priest had buggered him while giving him First Holy Communion prayer tuition more than 25 years ago. The allegations, made four years ago, were untrue but, as the priest outlined in his statement to the court, he was instantly and publicly suspended from ministry while the claims were investigated. The jury returned a 10-2 majority guilty verdict after deliberating for almost six hours at the end of a 17-day trial.
Anderson - of Crumlin Park, Crumlin, and formerly of Fatima Mansions and Iveagh Trust Flats, New Bride Street, Dublin - had denied falsely accusing the priest. This ensured that the innocent cleric had to endure the pain of hearing the false accusations being repeated and analysed in forensic detail during the trial.
In his statement, the priest said he hoped the result would not stop genuine victims of child sexual abuse from coming forward.
This unfortunate priest's Gethsemane-like anguish prompted calls to Joe Duffy's 'Liveline', including a moving contribution from a a man called Fergus whose brother, a priest, also found himself a victim of false accusations.
Fergus spoke of the devastation suffered by his brother and his family and revealed that, despite his brother being found innocent of all charges by the church and State authorities, the DPP has not pressed charges against his accuser.
Phil Garland, Director of Child Protection Services with the Archdiocese of Dublin, said that new guidelines are in place for the last two years.
Mr Garland said that the church's actions followed discussions with all relevant authorities, including the HSE and the gardai, over whether it is appropriate for the priest to temporarily step aside while accusations are investigated.
It is an extraordinary dilemma for the church, which is faced with the most difficult decision.
Does the church let a priest continue his ministry in the light of unproven allegations or do they suspend him immediately from his pastoral work?
If they don't suspend they face accusations of not taking theallegations seriously and allowing a potential molester to keep on molesting. If they immediately suspend a priest who may be innocent are they not guilty of a rush to judgement?
Sunday Independent 8 July 2007 - Reply from Colm O'Gorman
Sir - The recent conviction of Paul Anderson for falsely accusing a Catholic priest of sexually abusing him has quite rightly raised questions about how we as a society respond to allegations of child abuse.
Mr Anderson received a four-year sentence for the offence, a sentence which sends a clear message about how seriously the courts will treat those who attempt to extort money through a false allegation of child abuse.
It is important to recognise the very great hurt done to the victim in this case; the falsely accused priest.
His clear and powerful testimony in his victim impact statement to the court clearly highlights that hurt.
In responding to this case, it is vital that all appropriate authorities properly and carefully consider his testimony.
More importantly however, his words should cause us all as a society to reflect upon how we respond to such allegations.
I was struck by the suggestion in last week's edition of this newspaper that this case might deter victims of child sexual abuse from coming forward to make a complaint for fear of not being believed.
There is no objective reason why any victim of sexual abuse should be deterred from coming forward because of this case. Mr Anderson's conviction proves that he was guilty of the crime he committed. It has no bearing upon the truth of any other allegation.
Your reporter, Jerome Reilly, suggests that the organisation's "unwitting complicity in championing Paul Anderson in his bid to extort money from the church has reduced its standing in the eyes of many".
It is ironic to be baselessly judged as having been complicit in a crime, in an article which expresses understandable and righteous outrage at the injustice of a person being falsely accused of another crime.
I must ask on what basis Mr Reilly judges One in Four as being complicit in the crime perpetrated by Mr Anderson? I can state for the record that Mr Reilly did not make any contact with this organisation to inform his judgment.
I, of course, accept that Mr Reilly's rush to judgment of One in Four was itself unwitting and without malice.
For that reason I am happy to have a chance to set the record straight.
When any person contacts One in Four and discloses an allegation of sexual abuse, we outline what therapeutic and advocacy options are available.
It is not for this organisation to set itself up as a judge as to the truth of any allegation it receives, that would obviously be entirely inappropriate.
In a case involving an allegation against a cleric we facilitate and encourage the reporting of the allegation to the diocese or religious order involved.
One in Four supports Mr Reilly's view that such allegations present a dilemma for the church, or indeed for any agency responding to such allegations. Best practice dictates that in such cases the person, who is the subject of the allegation, should step aside from their role whilst the allegation is investigated.
It also suggests that the stepping aside of a person, who has been the subject of an allegation, should not be in any way seen as a judgment as to their guilt.
In our view, the accused person should be properly supported and cared for throughout any resulting investigation.
The stepping aside from ministry of a priest in such circumstances should not be viewed as a suspension but as an appropriate and responsible act on the part of that priest.
Mr Reilly asks, "If they [the church] immediately suspend a priest who may be innocent, are they not guilty of a rush to judgment?" The answer is to be found in his question.
Put simply, if society believes that the responsible and proper stepping aside of those accused of child sexual abuse is an indication of guilt, then there has indeed been a rush to judgment.
The answer is straightforward enough.
Any person who is the subject of a credible allegation of such abuse should step aside from their role if they are working with children or vulnerable adults. They should be treated with respect and compassion and properly supported throughout any investigation.
If the allegation is found to be groundless, they must be immediately restored to their position and their reputation must be properly protected throughout the process.
Most importantly, we must develop the collective capacity as a society to respond with maturity and compassion to all involved in such cases.
It would not be acceptable if we were to abandon best practice in child protection in order to counteract ill-informed gossip.
Colm O'Gorman, Founder, One in Four.
Giving a voice to those falsely accused of child sex abuse
Giving a voice to those falsely accused of child sex abuse
Sunday Independent, July 08 2007
Sir - As founder of the Let Our Voices Emerge (L.O.V.E) charity, please allow me to congratulate Jerome Reilly on his very well done, and sensitively written article, 'Falsely accused priest highlights abuse dilemma'.(Sunday Independent 1 July 07).
Jerome raises some very pertinent issues which our charity, Let Our Voices Emerge (L.O.V.E.)', has been dealing with for the past four years.
In writing about the falsely-accused priest, he maintains that the accuser, Paul Anderson has now by his actions made it more difficult for the genuinely abused to come forward.
Our charity, Let Our Voices Emerge, originated in 2002 from industrial school inmates who refused to allow our fellow inmates make false/fraudulent allegations of abuse in order to make financial gain or achieve "celebrity victimhood".
We now support all people who say they are innocent of child abuse allegations against them, including the "Religious of integrity".
We have always sought the co-operation of the State-funded victim support groups in aiding us expose the horror of false allegations, and by so exposing, make it more difficult for those making false allegations to do so.
Instead of getting help from such high profile groups as 'One in Four', the work of our group (non State-funded), was attacked on all levels.
According to comments made by Mr Colm O'Gorman to the media, we were "insensitive" and "inappropriate" in 2002 when we first emerged in the media, our work seen as a "sinister development".
This counselling group showed a remarkable lack of interest in the falsely accused, and hence to our thinking, an inability to counsel those abused impartially or effectively.
Why are they afraid to take the more rational approach, that is, for the support groups of the genuinely abused and of the falsely accused to unite, to expose and oust the false accusers? Well done, Jerome, and the Sunday Independent.
With objective and professional journalism such as you lot show, we may after all get a balance in what has amounted so far to an unfettered (and dare I say, State-supported) witch-hunt against all clergy and Religious accused.
Florence Horsman Hogan,
L.O.V.E., Seaview Wood, Shankill, Co Dublin.