We easily forget those good priests whose reputations can be permanently tarnished by false accusations

There were two items in The Catholic Herald of last Friday which caught my attention. The first was a Letter to the Editor by Mrs Maureen Findlay-Wilson (mother of Fr Chris Findlay-Wilson), commenting on Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury’s address to the British Confraternity of Catholic Clergy in October. Quoting John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, Bishop Davies had told his listeners, “The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.”She writes, “How long have we waited to hear those uplifting but pious sentiments uttered about our wonderful priests by a bishop, their spiritual father? Never underestimate the prayer, humility, work and self-giving that go with the Catholic priesthood. Remember their whole life is one of service to God and us. Where would we be without them? May God bless them always.”

Amen to all that. As one priest commentator said of Bishop Davies speech, “He took us to the essentials of the priesthood, to what really matters, not projects or plans, politics or strategies, but holiness…”

In my recent blog about large families I made the same point; instead of pastoral letters about future diocesan strategies, the laity and in particular married couples, need to be reminded by our bishops of the encyclical Humanae Vitae and its corresponding invitation to be open to life – and therefore to holiness.

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The second item, also relating to priests, showed the sufferings good priests sometimes endure. Apparently allegations of sexual abuse in the 1970s at a children’s home have been made against Fr Wilfred Baldwin, late of the Portsmouth diocese, by an unidentified woman. Bishop Crispian Hollis is disputing the woman’s claim because at the time of the alleged abuse this priest was based at the other end of the diocese and had no connection with the children’s home. He spoke of Fr Baldwin as “a priest of unblemished character until these allegations were made shortly before his death and who had no opportunity to respond to the allegations made against him”.

A solicitor who represents those who believe they have been falsely accused of abuse, commented in the newspaper report: “It’s time the public woke up to the fact that in addition to genuine cases… false allegations, whether through conscious lying or delusion, are common.” Apparently, out of 92 allegations made last year, 46 were dismissed after investigation as being unfounded. We tend to focus so much on the genuine cases that we forget those good priests whose reputations can be permanently tarnished and whose wellbeing might be permanently undermined by false accusations.

The late Archbishop Bernadin of Chicago was falsely accused of abuse; so was Cardinal Pell of Sydney. Both men forgave their accusers in an act of Christian generosity. But there are also others of lower profile in the hierarchy who lead lives, as Mrs Findlay-Wilson points out, of self-giving and service and who might be forced to undergo this very modern form of martyrdom. May God sustain them.

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