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Wrongly accused priest says Church let him down

After being fully cleared of an abuse charge, a priest describes the inquiry process and says he did not receive the support he deserved from the Church.

  • Michael Kelly
  • Ireland
  • November 8, 2012
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Fr Oliver Brennan will never forget the morning of August 14, 2010. It was to the beginning of a personal hell that saw him uprooted from the parish community he loved and feeling alienated and unable to exercise his priestly ministry. After decades in the priesthood he now stood accused of abuse.

It is a harrowing chapter in his life that he can only now begin to try and move on from having being told at the weekend that he has been cleared by a Church inquiry – almost a year after being cleared by the civil authorities.

“It was a Saturday morning,” he recalled, speaking to The Irish Catholic this week. Fr Brennan, the long-time parish priest of Blackrock and Haggardstown, received a phone call from Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh Dr Gerard Clifford. A short time later Bishop Clifford met with Fr Brennan and told him that an allegation of abuse dating back over 30 years had been received. “It was the last thing on Earth I imagined I would ever hear,” he recalls.

Church procedures – which have been criticised as too draconian by human rights professionals as well as priests’ representatives – immediately swung into place. Fr Brennan was immediately forced to step aside from his ministry. Senior Churchmen are always at pains to point out that the stepping aside is entirely voluntary.

In reality, however, priests faced with allegations of abuse – regardless of the credibility of such allegations – have little choice but to step aside, and move away from their parochial house and the life they have known.

Fr Brennan admits to feeling a “great deal of relief” that he has finally been cleared of any wrongdoing. It has been a long two years since the allegation surfaced just as he was due to be moved to the parish of Keady in Co. Armagh.

As is standard practice now, the Church authorities immediately passed the allegation on to the relevant civil authorities – in this case the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Fr Brennan was informed almost a year ago by the PSNI that the allegation was lacking in credibility and therefore he had no case to answer.

But, while in any other profession this would have meant a return to work, the Church process only began after the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) had finished their inquiries.

On Friday of last week, almost a year after being cleared by the civil authorities, Fr Brennan received a letter from Cardinal Seán Brady which contained the findings of a Church inquiry process – that:

(i) the allegations against Fr Oliver Brennan have not been substantiated;

(ii) Fr Oliver Brennan remains a priest in good standing and is to be restored to active ministry forthwith.

He readily admits that it all came as “a bit of an anti-climax”.

“Your life is on hold for so long, you think nothing is happening and then, out of the blue, the word you had been waiting on,” he said.

He says that the long, drawn-out nature of the Church process was “particularly stressful”. He also says that he feels let down by Cardinal Seán Brady and other senior officials within the Armagh archdiocese. “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,” he said.

“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,” he said.

Full Story: ‘I feel let down by the Church’

Source: The Irish Catholic
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