Sun | Jun 16, 2019

Peter Espeut | Gleaner, your slip is showing

Published:Friday | March 1, 2019 | 12:23 AM

Almost every barrel has a bad apple or two, and the Catholic Church is no different. It is reprehensible when anyone breaks a solemn vow, be they priest or politician, husband or wife; but doubly so when those given pastoral and spiritual care of the young, abuse those placed in their charge. The Catholic Church makes things worse when efforts are made to cover up the abuse of minors. There can be no good excuse for either the criminal act of sexual abuse of minors, or a cover-up of such abuse.

Last week in Rome (February 21-24, 2019), Pope Francis met with senior bishops from across the world to discuss ‘The Protection of Minors in the Church’. Also attending were members of ‘Ending Clerical Abuse’, a group representing abuse victims. One of its founders is a Jamaican and someone I know – Denise Buchanan.

In its editorial last Monday (February 25), this newspaper highlighted the case “of 57-year-old Denise Buchanan, who claimed she was raped as a teenager by a seminarian, that the abuse continued while she was at university and the seminarian had been ordained as a priest, and that she was coerced into two abortions”.

I was resident in the same seminary with the person she accuses of rape; and that is where I met her, for she would often (and quite cheerfully) visit ‘Brother Paul’ there. I have read – cover-to-cover – the book written by Ms Buchanan, and I would like to caution The Gleaner about accepting wholesale the stories contained therein. She was not a minor at the time of the reported abuse, and it could be a matter for debate about who is the real victim.

In November 2017, in the presence of Archbishop Kenneth Richards, Ms Buchanan confronted her alleged abuser, who admitted having consensual sex with her. She announced that she would be satisfied with an apology in writing, which she received.

What is surprising is that in last Monday’s editorial, this newspaper stated: “What, however, has been particularly damning for the Roman Catholic Church is how it has responded, or perhaps more correctly, failed to respond to episodes like Ms Buchanan’s when they come to light”. The editor went on to say that “ It is not clear what happened to Ms Buchanan’s abuser in the 14 months since their confrontation. But, if the global pattern holds good in Jamaica, he might have been shunted off to a quiet retirement, much the same way that, in other countries, rather than reporting abuse, for fear it tarnishes the image of the church, bishops moved predator priests from parish to parish. The upshot: spreading the problem around, rather than solving it”.

A simple call to the archbishop would have made clear to the editor the action the church has taken. As soon as Archbishop Richards became aware of the accusation, he took immediate action, summoning the clergyman to face his accuser. Once the accusation was found to have substance, the clergyman was immediately suspended from ministry and withdrawn from the church at which he served (maybe to his parishioners he seemed to have ‘disappeared’). The canonical process to laicise him (some people call it ‘defrocking’) is advanced. As Ms Buchanan was an adult at the time, the issue of the crime of child sexual abuse does not arise.

Irresponsible journalism

For The Gleaner editor to suggest that he might have been “shunted off to a quiet retirement” or moved “from parish to parish” thereby “spreading the problem around” is irresponsible journalism, as one phone call could have revealed the truth. Such wild speculation puts the church in a bad light. Is there an intention to weaken the church’s effort to lobby against the legalisation of abortion and the normalisation of buggery – both of which The Gleaner supports? The Gleaner’s anti-Church and anti-Catholic slip is showing!

Not satisfied with her letter of apology, Ms Buchanan seems to be on a campaign to embarrass the church. We are embarrassed, but Archbishop Richards has behaved quite properly in this matter. The Gleaner must be careful not to be a pawn in someone else’s chess game.

Peter Espeut is a Roman Catholic deacon and dean of studies at St Michael’s Theological College.