12 September 2011

A Surprise in the Framework Document

It struck me this morning that, to my shame, and despite all I've written about the Cloyne Report, I'd not read the Church's Framework Document which effectively underlies the report, which says (C1.15):
'The Commission’s main task was to consider whether the response of the Church and State authorities to complaints and allegations of clerical child sexual abuse was “adequate or appropriate” and to establish the response to suspicions and concerns about clerical child sexual abuse. In assessing how the diocesan and other Church authorities dealt with complaints, the Commission has judged them by the standards set in their own documents – the Framework Document and Our Children, Our Church. The Framework Document was issued in 1996. Our Children, Our Church was issued in 2005. It did not significantly change the procedures set out in the Framework Document, in particular, there was no significant change in respect of reporting to the State authorities'
I'd taken the Commission at its word whenever it referred to the Framework Document, but having just read the guidelines, I'm really not sure I should have been doing that. It seems that the Commission believed the  guidelines ought to have been applied not in the strictest possible way, but in the crudest and most thoughtless possible way. Take, for example, the case of Father Moray, about whom a complaint was entered in 1997, six years after he had died. The Report says (13.10):
'Monsignor O’Callaghan told the Commission that the practice of notifying the Gardaí of complaints involving deceased priests did not exist until, at the initiative of the Child Protection Office of the Irish Bishops’ Conference in May 2003, a meeting was sought with the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigating Unit (see Chapter 5) to ascertain its recommendations on good practice. The Commission does not accept that the practice did not exist prior to 2003. It was standard practice in the Archdiocese of Dublin from 1996. The Framework Document requires that all complaints be reported to the Gardaí – it does not specify different arrangements for deceased priests.'
This, frankly, is absurd. I don't dispute for a moment that O'Callaghan had a low opinion of the Framework Document and made no attempt to implement its guidelines, but in this connection with this the Commission's criticisms strike me as profoundly unfair.

On first viewing Cloyne through the Framework Document
Section 2.2.1 of the Framework Document seems very clear:
'In all instances where it is known or suspected that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused by a priest or religious the matter should be reported to the civil authorities. Where the suspicion or knowledge results from the complaint of an adult of abuse during his or her childhood, this should also be reported to the civil authorities.'
This is  in line with the third of the eight guiding principles outlined in the Framework Document for the handling of complaints of abuse, or of situations where it was suspected that a child had been abused. In connection with this, the Cloyne Report says (C1.22):
'The greatest failure by the Diocese of Cloyne was its failure to report all complaints to the Gardaí. Between 1996 and 2005, there were 15 complaints which very clearly should have been reported by the diocese to the Gardaí. This figure of 15 does not include concerns and does not include cases where the allegations were already known to the Gardaí (although some of these also ought to have been reported). Of these 15, nine were not reported.'
The thing is, though, that this really isn't that simple. For starters, I'm not sure which the fifteen complaints are that should have been reported. There were complaints made about nineteen different clerics, so does the Commission mean that the Diocese should have reported the complaints made about fifteen of these to the Gardaí? Alternatively, the Report says the Commission is aware of some 40 people who may have been affected by abuse in Cloyne; is it saying that the Diocese ought to have reported complaints from fifteen people, but not from others?

I'm not being picky. I started trying to work this out, got confused and tired, and then decided I'd better get back to my own work. At most I can see that there were twenty-five or so complaints, but without spending all night on it, I'm not sure which are duplicates or which fall within the remit of the investigation. It's very hard to wade through the report. Some kind of a table would help enormously.

But looking more closely...
Anyway, without getting bogged down in the detail, it's clear that several times the Document states, in one way or another, that:
'The safety and welfare of children should be the first and paramount consideration following an allegation of child sexual abuse.' 
This, I hope we'd all agree, is absolutely correct: the main priority should always be the protection of children. Indeed the recommendations on how to handle complaints of abuse are expressly stated at 2.2.6 as having been made in light of how the protection of children must be the primary consideration in these matters.

There are, however, other factors the Document says should be considered, such as the emotional and spiritual well-being of abuse victims and their families, and the basic rights under natural justice of accused priests. It's a fundamental principle of natural justice that everybody should be allowed to defend themselves against charges.

The Framework Document was never envisaged as something to be implemented in a uniform way across all of Ireland's dioceses and orders. In particular, section 3.4 recognises that 'the uniqueness of each complaint demands that judgement and discretion should be carefully exercised in the implementation of each phase of the protocol'. It's crucial to understand this, especially in connection with Murphy's assumption that the practice of Dublin ought automatically to have been the practice of Cloyne.

What are the protocols when children aren't in danger?
Now, without denying the fact that there were certainly some cases which most definitely ought to have been brought to the Gardaí, I think there were quite a few cases dealt with in the Cloyne Report where O'Callaghan's failure to report is, at least, defensible.  I'm not saying that I wouldn't have reported them to the Gardaí -- as I can imagine there being pastoral arguments for doing so -- or that Monsignors Stenson and Dolan in Dublin wouldn't have done so, but I can at least see why O'Callaghan didn't.

Father Moray had been six years dead when a compaint was entered about him in 1997 (C13), Father Rion had been twenty-nine years dead when a complaint was entered about him in 2005 (C20), and Father Kelven had been fourteen years dead when a complaint was entered about him in 2002 (C24); it's inconceivable that there were any child protection issues where these dead priests were concerned, and thus there would have been no great need to report them to the guards.

On the other hand, the principles of natural justice would have meant that these men were entitled to be able to defend themselves and protect their good name; being dead, they could hardly do that. Formally reporting them for crimes which they might never have committed and which could never be tested in court might well have struck Denis O'Callaghan as unfair attacks on people who could not defend themselves.*

A similar principle was surely in play in the case of the unknown priest who was complained of in 2003 by a man in a nursing home (C19); given the probability that the priest was long dead, or was, if not long dead, at least in his nineties, there can hardly have been any child protection concerns.

Likewise, one might wonder whether the cases of Father Darian, who died in 1997 after a complaint in 1996 (C11) or Father Tarin, who died in 2003 after a complaint in 2002 (C16) were really instances where the safety of children was at stake, given how both priests were old, retired, and basically at death's door when the complaints were made. It doesn't seem that either of us them could credibly have defended themselves, and it's clear that given their circumstances the Gardaí would certainly not have pressed charges. It's hard to see what would have been achieved in relation with the primary purpose of the Framework Document had Denis O'Callaghan reported these matters to the authorities.

In short
Again, I'm not saying that Denis O'Callaghan handled things well, or that it might not have been pastorally useful for him to have reported unprovable allegations to the Gardaí. It's obvious that he handled things terribly, through a combination of clericalism, arrogance, and misguided compassion. All I am saying is that some of the criticism in the Cloyne Report is, I think, misplaced.

And, as I've said before, there's no suggestion in the Cloyne Report that he ever broke the law, or that any child was ever harmed owing to anything he did or failed to do.

There's more than one surprise in the Framework Document. I'll come back to this.

* Yes, I know. How ironic. I'm not saying I agree. I'm just saying I think this is plausible.


Anonymous said...

Can there ever be such a thing as misguided compassion?
As per the Cloyne Report, what would O'Callaghan's single most inappropriate action or inaction have been?

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Well, perhaps imbalanced compassion, in that his compassion for his accused clerical brethren seems to have, in practice, outweighed that for those complaining of abuse.

I'd have to wade through it all again to find examples, but things I remember include his failure to report Father Corin's and Father Flan's admitted crimes (10, 14), and his failure to pass on what he'd been told about Father Baird (18) to the guards. I haven't the energy now -- let alone the time -- to go through the Ronat and Caden affairs, but I've got a couple of passages noted.

1.27: 'Monsignor O’Callaghan has acknowledged to the Commission that he: “should have struck a better balance in the ministry of pastoral care. I regret now that I did not intervene to counter the choice of the legal route when just settlements should have been made earlier with survivors. I regret also that I tended to show favour to accused priests vis-à-vis complaints in some cases. I realise now that in some instances I became emotionally drawn to the plight of accused priests and in this way compromised my care of some complainants."'

1.74: 'Monsignor O’Callaghan acted in what he perceived to be the best interests of the Church. The Commission accepts that he was personally kind in many respects to some complainants but kindness is not enough when dealing with criminal activity or with people who have been abused.'