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Bishop Casey Was Unfairly Named in Abuse Allegations

Irish Independent, 1st September 2006 by David Quinn

THE return of the native is complete at last. In a sense, of course, the native in question, Bishop Eamonn Casey, returned finally to his home soil in February. But he came back under a shadow. It had to lift before he could genuinely and finally say to himself, "I'm home".

The shadow was not the one caused by the Annie Murphy scandal. That had already lifted, more or less, albeit after a period of 14 years in exile. People can do less time than that for murder.

No, this shadow was potentially much more damaging, one that would have finished him once and for all. It concerned allegations of abuse made against him by a middle-aged woman that date back 30 years.

We never knew any more than that about the claims. But if the woman is now middle aged, and the allegations relate to incidents 30 years old, it didn't take a Sherlock Holmes to work out what they most likely entailed.

But in fact even that small amount of information was more than we had a right to know. The woman in question had made similar allegations against other individuals in the past, and all had proved groundless. Certainly gardai had to investigate her claims, but they should not have been made public. It placed Eamonn Casey under an unjustifiable cloud of suspicion.

Put yourself in his shoes. Supposing someone from your past came forward and told police that many years ago you had abused her.

Suppose she was known to have made other, similar allegations against other individuals in the past. Suppose the claim against you was utterly without foundation and that the police investigation was, therefore, a simple formality. Would you want this groundless allegation to be made known to the whole world, to all your friends and colleagues, to your neighbours and to your workmates?

Would you take much comfort in the fact that eventually the authorities decided not to press charges against you? Not likely. Not unless you were mad, as you would be painfully, acutely and hideously aware that forever more everyone would know that you were the person against whom this most dreadful of accusations was made.

But we all knew about Eamonn Casey. We knew because the allegation had been made known to Mass-goers last November at the parish in England to which he had been attached for the last number of years.

What this demonstrates is the extent to which priests have become sitting ducks for abuse allegations, indeed to which any religious, male or female, is a sitting duck.

In accordance with church protocols, once the allegation against Bishop Casey had been made, it had to be investigated and made known to the civil authorities. Fair enough. We know what happened in the past. The priest would not be investigated. At most he would be sent to a psychologist for 'treatment', and then reassigned to a new ministry. The civil authorities most certainly would not be informed.

That practice has now ended, or at least it should have if new protocols are being followed.

They certainly were in the case of Bishop Eamonn Casey. But not alone were the civil authorities informed and an investigation started, as is right and proper, the parishioners were also informed, and that is far more problematic.

The reason they were informed is that he stepped aside pending the investigation. But should he have stepped aside? Once he did the parishioners were going to have to be told something, or else they would speculate, and in this day and age we know what the speculation would be about.

However, the result of stepping down from the pulpit and the result of telling the parishioners is that the whole world found out. You found out. I find out. We all found out. Had we a right to this knowledge? The answer is no. We had no right to know anything about the allegation against Eamonn Casey unless and until enough evidence had been found to press charges. And there was never going to be enough evidence because the allegation wasn't true.

Furthermore, and this puts priests in an even more invidious position, with only the rarest exceptions it is only when child abuse claims are made against priests that the public seems to find out. When is the last time you were aware of an allegation against a teacher or a social worker that become common public knowledge? I cant recall a single example.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that the public grossly exaggerates the number of priests guilty of child abuse? This was proven by an opinion poll conducted on behalf of the Royal College of Surgeons three years ago.

Eamonn Casey is not the first priest to be falsely accused of abuse. Nor will he be the last. But we should never again know anything about an abuse allegation until charges are pressed. A forlorn hope, alas.