Priest accuses RTÉ of imbalance in abuse row

A priest has accused RTÉ of imbalance and inappropriateness after he became embroiled in a blazing radio row on sex abuse in the Catholic Church on the day Pope Benedict XVI resigned.

Fr Joe McDonald says RTÉ should have taken a decision to “lay off the Church scandals” on the day and he wants the makers of the Late Debate programme to respond to his criticisms.

The Thursday edition of the late night RTÉ 1 current affairs show became increasingly heated after Fr McDonald, of St Matthew’s Parish, Ballyfermot, and senator Ronan Mullen complained they were not being allowed raise the positive points of Pope Benedict’s reign.

They questioned the right of journalist and former rape crisis counsellor Susan McKay to be on the panel as she was a declared atheist, and they took issue with abuse survivor and long-time campaigner, Marie Collins’ view that the Church’s leaders still failed to grasp the severity of the problem.

Ms Collins, a devout Catholic who exposed the failings of Cardinal Desmond Connell on the abuse scandal, tweeted afterwards she was “shattered” by the encounter.

“Never encountered so much aggression in a debate before,” said Ms Collins, describing as “crazy” the complaint that the debate focused solely on abuse when it was the “blow-up” by the priest and senator that prolonged the row on the subject.

Fr McDonald said yesterday he had received a lot of support for his stance on the show, which he says was unfair as he had been told it would examine the papal legacy in full and consider Benedict’s likely successor, neither of which he got an opportunity to do.

“I got a lot of texts and emails and the general tenor is that, on the day that it was, when the Pope left Rome, could RTÉ for once not lay off the Church scandals and be a bit more circumspect and a bit more balanced?

“I would go further and say would RTÉ have a look at themselves and see how valid is a criticism like that? I’d like them to come back to me.” He said he was not making a formal complaint to the broadcaster at this stage.

RTÉ stood over the show and its presenter, Audrey Carville, saying the discussion was “robust yet fair”. “Whilst live discussions can, on divisive topics such as this one, quickly evolve, we feel that in this instance Late Debate’s presenter Audrey Carville maintained a professional and impartial role.”

While the row simmered on, other critics of RTÉ placed placards outside the Donnybrook studios with anti-abortions slogans and accusing the broadcaster of being “anti-Catholic”.

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