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RTÉ apology to priest in High Court "a wake-up call"

Association of Catholic Priests founder calls Prime Time Investigates accusations against Fr Kevin Reynolds “vile and appalling” as RTÉ apologises and pays undisclosed damages.

THE HEAD OF the Association of Catholic Priests gave an impassioned and angry speech to reporters outside the High Court this afternoon about “unbalanced” media portrayal of Catholic clergy.

Fr Seán McDonagh was speaking after RTÉ  apologised in court today to Fr Kevin Reynolds for false accusations made against him in a Prime Time Investigates programme. The Prime Time programme in May had alleged that Fr Reynolds was the father of a child conceived with a teenage girl when he worked as a missionary in Africa. RTÉ had issued an apology for the programme last month, acknowledging that the claims were “baseless”.

Today, the broadcaster issued another apology in the High Court and paid undisclosed damages to Fr Reynolds. Fergal Keane on RTÉ Radio One’s Drivetime speculated this evening that those damages could be in the region of “seven figures”. RTÉ’s Head of Corporate Communications Kevin Dawson told Drivetime’s Mary Wilson that he wouldn’t give details of whether RTÉ had insurance to fall back on for the full amount. He said that the focus should be on making restitution to Fr Reynolds and that RTÉ had made an early and lengthy apology to that effect. He said that it had been a “rare” mistake made by RTÉ’s flagship investigative television programme.

Fr McDonagh, speaking outside the court after the case, said that the most important thing to happen in court today was for all allegations against Fr Reynolds to be recognised as false in the public record. He said that Fr Reynolds would get back to his ministry in Ahascragh, Co Galway and they he didn’t have “the slightest idea” what the priest would do with the damages.

However, Fr McDonagh did have plenty to say about the treatment of the Catholic Church and clergy by the media. This Newstalk podcast captures his anger. This is the transcript of his words for reporters outside the court:

We’re delighted that here in court Fr Kevin has been totally and absolutely vindicated and that a new provision of the 2009 act where a correction order is written into the court that nobody can ever again challenge that person. So we’re delighted for him. It’s his day.

I know from the very beginning… the pain and trauma it caused him, it forced him out of his parish, forced to stand down as a Catholic priest from public ministry and basically most of his close friends and acquaintances were wondering if there was any basis for this accusation. So it was vile, it was appalling and that was what has been recognised there today.

It is a great day too also I think for journalism here in Ireland because the kind of attack was made on him was the kind of thing we really have to begin to challenge, not just across the water with the hacking, where somebody’s good name can be vanished, taken away in ten seconds.

It is also a good day I think for Catholic priests. Many of you may be aware of the study done by Amárach three weeks ago where they said 47 per cent of people thought that 20 per cent of priests are paedophiles. Now the reality is there is less than two or three per cent. Where did those understandings come from? Surely there wasn’t spontaneous generation like the 19th century bad botany.

Catholic priests have got a very bad presentation, unbalanced, to the extent that publicly people think one in five priests are paedophiles. Say it happened to any other profession – (eg) one in five doctors are paedophiles – the IMO and every organisation that supports doctors – or say journalists – you would all be up in arms. And yet this has been laid down by the way sections of the press have portrayed the Catholic Church, in particular the Catholic Church and the ministers of the Church and the religious in today’s world.

So I hope this is a wake-up call. We’re not asking for special positions but we are asking for truth and fairness and, particularly today, justice.
Kevin worked in Africa, I worked in the Philippines, we worked for justice for the people in those countries. I’d like to see the same justice being seen here in Ireland today and given to all sections.

I’m delighted when our new President talks about inclusivity, but that includes Catholic priests.

Read: RTÉ apologises over false allegations made against Fr Kevin Reynolds>

Column: No matter what, we still need the Church>

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