Catholic World News

Irish guidelines: priests should be given presumption of innocence in abuse investigations

June 29, 2016

New guidelines for handling sex-abuse complaints in the Irish Catholic Church emphasize that an accused priest should be presumed innocent while an investigation takes place, even if he has been suspended from ministry. 

The guidelines, released by the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), call for a balance between the rights of the accused clerics and those of the accusers. They suggest that if a priest dies before an investigation is concluded, "careful thought should be given by the Church authority to the way the requiem liturgy and internment is conducted. Publicly praising the respondent’s qualities as a priest could have a seriously detrimental impact on complainants.”

The NBSC says that investigations should remain confidential. However, the guidelines stress that while parishioners do not need to know all details, "what they are told should be the truth."

The document affirms that a priest cannot inform authorities about abuse that is revealed in a sacramental confession; the NBSC notes that "the maintenance of truth in the Sacrament of Reconciliation requires the guarantee of absolute confidentiality, allowing no exceptions." However, priests who learn about abuse in the confessional-- either from an abuser or a victim-- are exhorted to advise people to report the matter to law-enforcement officials.

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