THE CATHOLIC Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin has said he was put under “a huge amount of legal pressure” when dealing with the case of a priest who was recently asked to stand aside from his parish, several years after allegations of child sex abuse were made against him.
Dr Martin said he understood but regretted the decision of a child-safeguarding representative in the Dublin parish to step down after she discovered last month the priest had been on “restricted ministry” in her parish for years.
The archbishop said the matter was “a classic example of the lacunas that exist in our current legislation”, as he was restricted from sharing information about the priest as the matter was not sufficiently serious to result in a conviction.
“There is a real need to update our legislation which respects the rights of individuals but also which respects and covers the need to share information with those who have responsibility,” Dr Martin told RTÉ Radio.
Dr Martin said there was a “very serious difficulty” around the passing of soft information and that legislation on the matter had been promised for some time.
Soft information is material not strong enough to sustain a prosecution or conviction but indicating a concern over the suitability of a person to have access to children.
He said there was an argument for those in the church responsible for dealing with such matters to be given a form of indemnity.
The priest in question was the subject of a chapter in the 2009 report of the Murphy commission on clerical sexual abuse.
Two complaints against the priest, given the pseudonym Fr Benito, were addressed by the commission.
They concerned an alleged sexual assault against a 15-year- old boy in 1988 and an alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl. In October 2002 the DPP decided not to prosecute in either case.
The priest’s history only came to light last month when some in the parish became concerned on being informed by the archdiocese that Fr Benito was standing aside from ministry as it had new information on him.
Dr Martin said the new information about the priest had led him to reassess previous allegations against him. He said that after reviewing the information, he immediately took action by asking the priest to leave his ministry.
Prior to the action, the priest had been visited on a regular basis by officials from the Dublin archdiocese and his case had been kept under review, Dr Martin said.
According to interim guidelines for such cases, published last February by the National Board for Safeguarding Children and adopted by the Irish Catholic bishops, “the bishop/congregational leader [in this instance Dr Martin] is responsible for what is communicated and how this is communicated”.
However, Dr Martin said the situation around passing on soft information was becoming more and more complex.
He said he made a “prudential decision”, and the most important thing was the priest was removed from active ministry, even though the sharing of information about the circumstances had to be limited.