A number of Irish media outlets have previously relayed the ordeal of Rev. Oliver Brennan, a priest who was falsely accused of sex abuse dating back some thirty years earlier.
However, as the Irish Catholic newspaper now reports, while Brennan feels "a great sense of relief" for having been exonerated of an accusation he always vehemently denied, the priest believes that Church authorities did not fully support him during his difficult time.
When Brennan was first accused in August 2010, his case was referred to law enforcement, and the priest voluntarily removed himself from ministry while declaring that the allegations were completely "false and groundless."
Exonerated, but still a long wait to return to ministry
Law enforcement thoroughly investigated the claim, and in November 2011, fifteen months after the accusation, officials completely dismissed the charges against him. At the time, the Irish Times quoted Brennan:
"[I look forward] to return to ministry in the church at the earliest possible date so that I can continue to provide for many years to come a worthwhile service to the people I have been called to serve."
Unfortunately, that "earliest possible date" did not come until last week, nearly a year after he was exonerated by civil authorities.
What took so long? Well, Fr. Brennan still had to wait for the results of a slow-moving "Church inquiry." As the priest had served nearly four decades in ministry without blemish, he describes the two-and-a-half years away from his livelihood as particularly painful.
"It has been my worst nightmare … I felt very let down by the cardinal and diocesan authorities. When they make the announcement to parishioners, there is an insistence in the statement about the need for the presumption of innocence. But it doesn't feel like that, the treatment you receive is very different.
"I would have to say that I didn't feel compassionately supported by our diocesan authorities. The aim of our diocese is to be compassionate, but I didn't feel it.
"As time went on there was occasional contact [from senior diocesan authorities] but I certainly didn't feel there was the compassionate support I deserved."
Not a good outlook
Sadly, Fr. Brennan's reaction is quite reflective of a perceived attitude that we have cited before: that bishops are swift to abandon priests accused of abuse, no matter how flimsy the charges are. Writing about the Church scandals in August 2011, Catholic scholar Dr. Jeff Mirus wrote:
"Ever since the sexual abuse scandal broke over ten years ago, good priests have complained that they frequently do not get the kind of support from their bishop that they would expect when faced with allegations of misconduct. The attitude of many bishops seems to have changed from an assumption of innocence to a desire to distance oneself as quickly as possible from anyone who is accused. While guilty priests must be promptly removed from priestly service, not all who are accused are guilty."
Meanwhile, a few years ago, a senior priest described accused clerics as follows: "They feel shunned by their bishops, and describe themselves as lepers."
Unfortunately, years after the above comment was made, the outlook for accused priests does not seem any more bright or just. While accusations against priests must be thoroughly and promptly investigated, even by law enforcement authorities, it seems we are still at a place where accused priests are presumed guilty, even by their own bishops.
(HT: Phil Lawler, CatholicCulture.org)