Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010

Civil settlement on abuse claims raises questions

aerial shot of the Vatican
Pope Benedict's letter addressing clerical abuse in Ireland is due to be published this weekend

william crawley
By William Crawley
BBC Northern Ireland religious affairs presenter

Another Irish Catholic bishop is under pressure in relation to the handling of child abuse allegations.

Seamus Hegarty, the Bishop of Derry, was one of three clerics named in a confidential civil settlement after a girl said she suffered a 10-year abuse ordeal, beginning when she was eight years old in 1979.

The alleged victim's father has told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that her family had not gone to the police at the time because "it was not the culture" in Derry to do so.

That appears to be a reference to the unwillingness of many Catholics and nationalists in Northern Ireland at the time to have any contact with the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

It may be that the Derry diocese, when they have examined their files, will argue that this financial settlement was considered appropriate at the time because the normal route of a police investigation - and, thus, the criminal courts - was blocked as a consequence of the controversial nature of policing in Northern Ireland.

Liability

If that argument is deployed, it will not satisfy many victims and survivors of abuse.

Questions will remain about the fact that neither the alleged abuser nor the diocese accepted any liability in this civil action in respect of a claimed decade-long spate of abuse.

Instead, we are told, that the closest the priest in question came to an admission of guilt was a handwritten letter, attached to the civil agreement, in which he apologised to the alleged victim's family for "for any pain I caused you through inappropriate gesture or mistaken signs of affection".

If an alleged paedophile describes his actions as a "mistaken sign of affection", could that be a sign that they are still unwilling to fully accept the may have done wrong?

Any secrecy mechanism that permits an abuser to disguise the nature or extent of his abuse, may prove extremely dangerous and leave other children vulnerable to abuse in the future.

For now the Derry diocese has said it cannot give detailed comment because church records need to be checked first.

But the Bishop will face a series of questions such as, was any effort made to persuade the family that they should contact the police or become involved in a police-led investigation?



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