Putting The Primacy Of The Child First

Extracts from Fr. Tony Flannery’s (www.tonyflannery.com) article which Marie Collins was aksed to respond to on ‘This Week’ with Richard Crowley March 9, 2014

Tony Flannery:

I was trying to highlight an issue that I regard as needing some open discussion in this whole sorry saga of clerical child sexual abuse.  Priests who, having come out of the seminary with the emotional and sexual maturity of a teenager, due to the terribly restrictive nature of the recruitment and training, got involved in some form of relationship with a teenage girl.

Marie Collins:

I would certainly not agree with the point of calling it a relationship. If an adult, male or female, gets involved sexually with a teenager, an under age teenager, it is not a relationship. It is abuse and it is a criminal offence and it is a moral offence….

Tony Flannery

…a priest, who managed to put that period of his life behind him, and who had no further allegations of any nature against him, maybe should not now be publicly shamed and removed from his ministry – often forty years or more later. This is not to diminish the pain that the person making the allegation may have suffered because they may not have been able to put the experience behind them.  However I think that it is necessary to distinguish between justice and retribution.

Marie Collins

to say that there have never been further accusations, you cannot guarantee that just because nobody has come forward in the intervening years. In my own case when I reported it – my abuse was 30 years ago – and I was told exactly that the priest had never touched another child. It has been discovered since that he was abusing for those 30 years and he was actually raping children the year before I reported him. So you cannot be sure that there were not other cases.

I have no problem with elderly priests being treated with care, mercy, forgiveness. My own abuser I hope he’s being treated with care and being supported. But that does not mean I want to see him back in a position of authority.

Tony Flannery

Some of my friends tell me I am a fool to engage in this type of debate. They say that there is one dominant narrative on this topic, and it is impossible to challenge it even in the slightest. They are probably right, and I find myself comparing it in some way to my experience with the Vatican, who also had one way of looking at things and insisted that this way could not be challenged.

But since I myself experienced sexual abuse as a young boy over a period of time, I believe that maybe I have some right to have my say on the topic.

Marie Collins

I would never disagree with anyone’s right to speak on the topic and priests have a right to support their colleagues…

It’s not a question of being punished…it’s not a question of revenge or retribution. It’s not about the priest. It’s about the protection of children and young people and if you’re going to deal with child protection …putting the primacy of the child first  you must always then put the safety of the child first. And if there’s any, even the slightest chance that a child might be harmed by somebody being put back into authority and trust then the child’s protection must come first. It does not mean that these men are not entitled to care, support , to be given work within the church which will use their talents.


A podcast of the RTE inverciew – about 8 minutes long – can be downloaded here