Very few priests speak publicly about their horrifying ordeals of being falsely accused of child sex abuse, but Rev. Eugene Boland is doing so after a jury in Derry, Ireland, unanimously found him not guilty in June of the flimsy claim that he had somehow "inappropriately touched" a girl over two decades earlier.
The verdict brought an end to what the priest now calls "the darkest two years of my life."
From "a priest's worst nightmare" to victory
On March 31, 2010, Fr. Boland received the phone call that every priest fears. His bishop was on the line, and he told him to contact the diocese's child safeguarding leader the next day.
"That was a bleak day," Boland told the Irish Independent. "It just came out of the blue … I was shell-shocked. I'm sitting in my home on my own. I didn't know what the allegation was, or who was making it."
"I didn't sleep that night," says the priest.
The popular priest was eventually ripped from the ministry he so loved and forced to withstand screaming front-page headlines about his case, aggressive police tactics, and a high-profile criminal trial.
Throughout the ordeal, however, Boland felt a sense of "relief" over the fact that he knew he was innocent and there would be an opportunity to publicly make his case.
When the jury returned the unanimous "not guilty" verdicts, the priest could not have been more ecstatic. "I could have skipped down the street outside the courthouse. There was an overwhelming feeling of relief – that I had been heard and I had been vindicated.
"I have been walking on air ever since," says Fr. Boland.
And even though the priest's parishioners have been "extremely angry" at the accuser for lodging her completely bogus allegation, Boland has told the Derry Journal that he has "forgiven that person because to hold bitterness or anger would weigh me down … I always believed the truth would come out in the end."
Issues still unresolved
Although this story has a happy ending, there are still some aspects are troublesome.
Even though Rev. Boland was exonerated two months ago, he has yet to return to his parish assignment, as he still awaits official word from Rome for permission to return to ministry. Why the long wait?
In addition, the media still have not addressed the patent unfairness of Catholic priests being forced into having to prove that they didn't do something decades earlier. Think about it. How does one go about this? As Joe Maher, president of Opus Bono Sacerdotii ("Work for the Good of the Priesthood"), once said, "If you think it's tough proving an allegation from 30 years back, try disproving it."
The platform for accused priests is literally "guilty until proven innocent," yet very few people seemed too worked up about this unjust predicament, especially those in the media. And if there any evidence of men from other professions having to endure these same ordeals of trying to disprove allegations from so long ago, we haven't seen it.
Our world's priests remain very vulnerable targets, as this case amply demonstrates.