The Irish Church has updated its child protection guidelines to ensure that public announcements concerning accused priests should emphasise the presumption of innocence, The Irish Times reports.
The guidelines published this week by the Church's National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) also emphasise that in such cases, while parishioners cannot be told everything, "what they are told should be the truth."
The guidelines also advise that when an accused priest dies before an investigation has concluded, "careful thought should be given by the Church authority to the way the requiem liturgy and internment is conducted. Publicly praising the respondent's qualities as a priest could have a seriously detrimental impact on complainants."
The inviolability of the confessional is reiterated. While "all suspicions, concerns and allegations of child abuse must be reported to the statutory authorities," they state that "there is one exception to this rule." That is "if abuse is disclosed during the Sacrament of Reconciliation."
They continue that "the maintenance of trust in the Sacrament of Reconciliation requires the guarantee of absolute confidentiality, allowing for no exceptions. This is known as the Seal of Confession and guarantees to the penitent that anything revealed to the confessor will not be divulged to anyone else."
The Conference of Irish Catholic Bishops "is to establish norms regarding the confessional; it is to take care, however, that there are always confessionals with a fixed grate between the penitent and the confessor in an open place, so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely," the guidelines say.
However, where abuse is admitted by a perpetrator or alleged by a child/young person in the confessional, the guidelines direct that a priest should strongly advise them to report this to the statutory authorities.
In cases where an abuse allegation is received and a priest or religious is standing down from ministry, "the Church authority is responsible for what is communicated about this change, to whom, and how this is communicated," the guidelines say. "The preferred approach is for any public communication to be agreed with the respondent, where the presumption of innocence should be emphasised.
According to NSBC chief executive, Teresa Devlin, the guidelines were "practical guides to implementing the standards."
Guidance (National Board for Safeguarding Children)