Monsignor Denis O’Callaghan criticised the Catholic Church’s protection guidelines for offering little discretion if they felt the accused priest was unable to cope with the consequences of an abuse complaint.
The former Mallow parish priest also noted in a letter to the Irish Catholic that “with many others I winced when understandably angry people [victims] expressed the wish that an accused priest would burn in hell”.
“For most of those priests accused in Cloyne, the complaints alleged incidents dating back over 30 or 40 years. Of those priests some would now be terminally ill while others would be under constant medical care. The literal guidelines did not allow for any discretion to bishops and to their delegates. Reporting was to be made immediately,” he wrote.
“No exception was to be made even when an accused priest was on his death-bed. The plea that there was no further risk to children was not a protection against a charge of cover-up.”
Mgr O’Callaghan repeated his concerns, voiced when the framework guidelines were being drafted in 1996 and again to the Murphy Commission, that the “fundamental Christian duty of pastoral care was compromised by the form of mandatory reporting required in the framework document”.
“I doubt that anyone, including the bishops, appreciated the implications of that term immediately, particularly in Cloyne as in the Irish diocesan situation generally, where the accused priests were either dead or very aged,” he said.
“In my memoir Putting Hand to the Plough I have explained the role of pastoral care in dealing with clerical sex abuse. That duty essentially applies across the board to everyone suffering the consequences of sex abuse, primarily the victim but also the transgressor.
“Pastoral care is a duty enjoined on Christians by the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel. In the generality of cases the guidelines could be readily incorporated within pastoral care. There were some cases, as in those mentioned above, where as a Christian one was duty bound to extend pastoral care to anyone in sore need.
“Judge Yvonne Murphy was made aware of the Cloyne commitment to pastoral care but the commission focused on its remit of reporting on whether or not procedures were fulfilled.
“In hindsight I accept that I should have resigned on the point of principle from my role as delegate once I came to realise the implications of the 1996 guidelines for the over-riding duty of pastoral care,” Mgr O’Callaghan said.