Let us hope they will be more careful in future

Some time ago I blogged about an RTÉ programme which made serious allegations about the conduct of certain Irish missionaries in Africa. While in some cases the facts were not in dispute, one of the priests accused of misconduct did protest his innocence. The allegations made against him were very specific, and of their nature disprovable; well, the priest in question has given absolutely convincing proof that he is innocent, and RTÉ has apologised, I am glad to say. One can read about the apology here on the RTÉ website and the reaction of the defamed priest himself on the same site.

I am glad that RTÉ has apologised fully for the damage they have done to an innocent man’s reputation, as well as for the severe disruption they have brought to his life. It would have been far better, of course, if they had checked their facts before the broadcast, or if they had researched matters a bit better. The uncomfortable fact remains that once an accusation of this nature is made, the following retraction does not always do its job, let alone get the same level of publicity. Let us hope RTÉ and other broadcasters will be more careful in future.

In fact the Irish media have form on this matter. Some may have heard of the case of Nora Wall, a former nun sentenced to life imprisonment for rape. Yet the real scandal of the Nora Wall case concerns the way a totally innocent woman was the subject of a hysterical witch-hunt. Miss Wall’s conviction was quashed, and she has been found to be a victim of a miscarriage of justice. You can read a summary of the case here. While the charges against Miss Wall aroused huge ire, the fact that an innocent woman was pilloried has not aroused similar passion. But a passion for justice ought to cut both ways.

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While we are on the subject, one might call to mind the way the Irish journalist Hermann Kelly comprehensively investigated the allegations made in a best-selling misery memoir by one Kathy O’Beirne, and found that they were in fact based on fantasy; but O’Beirne was debunked only after the damage her accusations caused had been done. This included the defamation of a completely innocent priest who was physically quite incapable of committing the sort of act that she alleged against him.

When people make false accusations, who is to blame? The perpetrators, in the first place, but we must also blame, I think, those who whip up the sort of atmosphere that lends credibility to accusations which in the cold light of day are pretty incredible. The processes of justice are meant to be neutral in their workings. Which leaves me metaphorically stroking my chin at the thought of Enda Kenny, who has made an accusation against the Vatican which sounds very specific, but which has no known basis in fact. This has been dealt with in great detail by The Thirsty Gargoyle, and you can read his authoritative analysis here.

It is worth remembering that old wartime admonition: “Careless talk costs lives.”

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