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One in Four responds to comments by Father Tony Flannery on the Catholic Church response to allegations of clerical sexual abuse

One in Four, the national charity which supports people who have experienced sexual violence, voiced its concern following comments by Fr. Tony Flannery regarding the stepping aside of priests who have been accused of child sexual abuse. Fr Flannery suggested that where allegations of abuse were historic, there was a lesser risk to children and that priest’s subject to such investigations should be allowed to remain in ministry provided they posed no risk to children. One in Four is concerned that Fr Flannery’s comments display little understanding of the issues central to child protection. Where a credible allegation has been made there is automatically a risk to children, this threat can only be deemed to be of low, medium or high risk following assessment and investigation but no-one can determine that “no risk” exists. The fact that allegations are often only made some years following the alleged abuse is typical of child sexual abuse, a delay in reporting in no way diminishes either the seriousness or the veracity of the allegation. The fact that any allegation may date back some years or even decades does not minimise the risk to children in any way.

It is of grave concern that Fr Flannery seems to suggest that priests who sexually abuse adolescents are somehow less of a risk to children and young people. He suggests that cases where the child is “technically underage” are somehow to be treated as less serious or as less significant. Speaking today Colm O'Gorman, Director of One in Four said, “A person in a position of authority, whatever their profession, who engages in sexual conduct with a person below the age of consent has committed a serious crime. There is no room for a reinterpretation of the law that would suggest that this crime is somehow less serious because the child is an adolescent. Father Flannery’s comments in this regard, however well intentioned, are irresponsible and will cause grave hurt and offence to those who were abused by priests as teenagers”.

One in Four strongly believes that all allegations that are credible need to be responded to with sensitivity and respect for all involved. The charity believes that wherever a credible allegation has been made the person who is subject to the accusation should step aside from contact with children and young people whilst the complaint is properly investigated. “It is clear that in an effort to demonstrate a more robust approach some Bishops have made public announcements about allegations that are unhelpful for all involved. The timing and nature of any public announcement should be carefully considered and proper regard paid for the rights of the accused but with paramount importance attached to child protection,” said O’Gorman.

 
 

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Support and resources for people who have experienced sexual abuse and/or sexual violence.