A Co. Down-based priest who stood aside following allegations of abuse has been restored to full priestly ministry after police said the allegations were unfounded. One can’t even begin to imagine how devastating it must be for a priest (or indeed anyone) to be the subject of a false allegation.
Making the announcement about Castlewellan Parish Priest Fr Seán Cahill at Mass this morning Bishop Noel Treanor reinforced the fact that the priest returns to ministry with “an unblemished character”.
Bishop Treanor said Fr Cahill, who has served the Church for almost 50 years, “has resumed priestly ministry, the same innocent priest he was when he voluntarily stepped aside in February 2010.
“Unfounded allegations have a devastating effect on any person, but the allegations levelled against Fr Sean Cahill, who has dedicated his life to selfless service of Church and community, damage not only his life but also his family, his parish, his diocese, the Church and wider society.
“In addition, such baseless allegations do colossal damage to the cause of the genuine survivors of abuse, including clerical abuse,” Bishop Treanor said.
The pain of being the subject of an unfounded allegation is intensified because of the way such allegations are immediately reported in the media and the priest involved named before anyone has an idea of whether there is a case to answer.
It is right that the safeguarding of children is of paramount concern to the Church and all allegations need to be thoroughly investigated by the competent authorities. However, there is a heavy responsibility on the media to treat priests fairly and grant them the same presumption of innocence. Newspapers and broadcasters who have reported on the allegations must also take every necessary step now to ensure that the wider public is made aware of the fact that the allegations against Fr Cahill were found by the statutory authorities to be unfounded.