N. Ireland Politics

Bishop Patrick Walsh defends handling of sex abuse case

Former priest James Donaghy
Image caption James Donaghy was jailed in February for a series of sex crimes

A retired Catholic bishop has defended his handling of some of the abuse allegations made against James Donaghy, a former priest jailed for ten years for a series of sex crimes.

One of Donaghy's victims, Fr Patrick McCafferty, was critical of how Bishop Patrick Walsh dealt with his case.

Fr McCafferty was a 19-year-old trainee priest when first abused by Donaghy.

When he told Bishop Walsh of the allegations in 2003 an internal church inquiry was established.

But at the time the police were not informed because "the allegation raised was not of a child safeguarding nature," according to a statement issued on behalf of Bishop Walsh.

It said both Fr McCafferty and James Donaghy were adults at the time of the assault and that Fr McCafferty was "aware of his responsibility to report this matter" to the police, which he did not do until years later.

Trauma

Fr McCafferty has rejected Bishop Walsh's statement.

He said: "For the church to contend they had no obligation to report knowledge of violent acts against a vulnerable young adult is to exhibit a complete unawareness of the crime, trauma and recovery."

After initial investigations in 2003, Bishop Walsh wrote to Fr McCafferty stating he "unreservedly accepted the good faith" in which the allegations were made.

Equally, he said, he had no reason to doubt the good faith of Fr Donaghy's denials and in the absence of independent corroboration he was unable to make a judgement.

But in his statement, Bishop Walsh said "he did not simply accept James Donaghy's claim of innocence".

He said the inquiry had to be suspended in March 2004 when the church did inform the police about separate allegations against Donaghy because, as per its guidelines, they involved a child.

The Down and Connor diocese has since developed procedures on how to handle allegations made by vulnerable adults.

Last October it established an independent panel to consider any allegation or complaint and anything of a criminal nature is immediately referred to the civil authorities.

Fifty-three-year-old Donaghy, from Lady Wallace Drive in Lisburn, was convicted in February of 23 sex abuse charges against Fr McCafferty and two teenage altar boys.

The judge described him as a sexual predator whose victims were susceptible by virtue of their religious leanings.

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