Fr Kevin Reynolds, RTÉ defamation case settled

From RTÉ News:

RTÉ apologised to Fr Kevin Reynolds

An action for defamation taken by a Co Galway priest against RTÉ over a Prime Time Investigates programme has been settled at the High Court.

Fr Kevin Reynolds, 65, the parish priest of Ahascragh in Co Galway, sued RTÉ in relation to the programme broadcast in May.

The programme falsely alleged that he had sexually abused a teenage girl in Kenya in 1982, fathered a child by her and abandoned the child.

The false allegations were also broadcast on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the following morning.

A paternity test showed Fr Reynolds was not the father of the child.

RTÉ has apologised fully and unreservedly to Fr Reynolds and has said the programmes should never have been broadcast.

As part of the settlement a lengthy statement was read to the court, a correction order has been made by the High Court and substantial compensatory and aggravated damages are to be paid to Fr Reynolds as well as his legal costs.

The amount of damages being paid to Fr Reynolds is confidential as part of the agreement.

The defamation action was due to begin this morning, but just after 2pm, Mr Justice Eamon De Valera was told the matter had been settled.

Statements

The lengthy statement outlining the terms of the settlement was read to the court by lawyers for Fr Reynolds.

The statement said RTÉ had been afforded every opportunity to review its position and remove any reference to Fr Reynolds before the programme was broadcast.

A Prime Time Investigates team first approached Fr Reynolds on 7 May 2011 without any notice and put the allegations to him.

He denied the allegations and his solicitors then wrote to RTÉ on a number of occasions repeating the denials.

He offered to undergo a paternity test before the programmes were broadcast, but RTÉ refused this offer.

The statement said RTÉ and reporter Aoife Kavanagh had choices: choices prior to the broadcast, choices in the manner in which the case was approached and the paternity test addressed after the broadcast.

The choices made by RTÉ were utterly misjudged and wrong, the court was told, and had an utterly devastating impact on Fr Reynolds.

He was removed from public ministry following the programme but returned to his parish last month.

The statement says Fr Reynolds suffered irreparable damage to his reputation.

His life was utterly altered and he was removed from his home and his community.

Upset and stress were caused to his family, friends, parishioners, fellow priests, members of his missionary society and members of the Catholic Church in Ireland and abroad.

Despite his vindication through the results of the tests and the retraction of the allegations by RTÉ, he still feels very upset by the damage to his good name, reputation and network of relationships in Ireland and in Africa.

The court was told that despite his reinstatement as parish priest he feels personally damaged and the scars remain.

His 40th Jubilee year as a priest has been marred by “the enormity of the abhorrent crime of which he was publicly and globally accused”.

The statement read in court said RTÉ now stated that the programmes ought never to have been broadcast.

It said all the allegations against Fr Reynolds were baseless, without any foundations whatsoever and untrue and the allegations should never have been put to Fr Reynolds without prior notice.

It said the programmes should not have been broadcast following on the denials from Fr Reynolds himself and the denials in his solicitors’ letter of 11 May.

RTÉ said the programmes should not have been broadcast in light of the fact that Fr Reynolds offered to undergo a paternity test before the programmes were broadcast, and RTÉ refused this offer.

RTÉ also said the programmes ought not to have been broadcast in light of the correspondence that had passed between RTÉ and Fr Reynolds’ former bishop in Kenya, Bishop Sulumeti, stating the allegations were untrue.

RTÉ also stated Fr Reynolds was and always had been a priest of utmost integrity and had an unblemished 40 years in the priesthood and had made a valuable contribution to society in Kenya and in Ireland both in education and in ministry.

Fr Reynolds did not comment after the case but Fr Sean McDonagh of the Association of Catholic Priests said they were delighted that Fr Reynolds had been totally and absolutely vindicated.

He said they were happy that the correction order made by the court would allow the public record to be corrected and was very important.

He said he hoped Fr Reynolds could now get on with the rest of his life.

Fr McDonagh said he hoped this would be a wake-up call. He said he would not prejudge the results of the review being carried out by Press Ombudsman John Horgan.

Mr Justice De Valera said it was clearly important that appropriate lessons from this affair were learned and acted upon.

Click here to read the press release of the Association of Catholic Priests congratulating Fr Reynolds. See also RTÉ’s original apology.

Speaking outside the High Court, Fr Séan MacDonagh told reporters:

We’re delighted that here in court Fr Kevin has been totally and absolutely vindicated and that a new provision of the 2009 act where a correction order is written into the court that nobody can ever again challenge that person. So we’re delighted for him. It’s his day.

I know from the very beginning… the pain and trauma it caused him, it forced him out of his parish, forced to stand down as a Catholic priest from public ministry and basically most of his close friends and acquaintances were wondering if there was any basis for this accusation. So it was vile, it was appalling and that was what has been recognised there today.

It is a great day too also I think for journalism here in Ireland because the kind of attack was made on him was the kind of thing we really have to begin to challenge, not just across the water with the hacking, where somebody’s good name can be vanished, taken away in ten seconds.

It is also a good day I think for Catholic priests. Many of you may be aware of the study done by Amárach three weeks ago where they said 47 per cent of people thought that 20 per cent of priests are paedophiles. Now the reality is there is less than two or three per cent. Where did those understandings come from? Surely there wasn’t spontaneous generation like the 19th century bad botany.

Catholic priests have got a very bad presentation, unbalanced, to the extent that publicly people think one in five priests are paedophiles. Say it happened to any other profession – (eg) one in five doctors are paedophiles – the IMO and every organisation that supports doctors – or say journalists – you would all be up in arms. And yet this has been laid down by the way sections of the press have portrayed the Catholic Church, in particular the Catholic Church and the ministers of the Church and the religious in today’s world.

So I hope this is a wake-up call. We’re not asking for special positions but we are asking for truth and fairness and, particularly today, justice.

Kevin worked in Africa, I worked in the Philippines, we worked for justice for the people in those countries. I’d like to see the same justice being seen here in Ireland today and given to all sections.

I’m delighted when our new President talks about inclusivity, but that includes Catholic priests.

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Posted on November 17, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Justitia facta est! The carelessness in the preparation of that programme is staggering. When a large public body has to allow a statement like this to be made:

    “… RTÉ and reporter Aoife Kavanagh had choices: choices prior to the broadcast, choices in the manner in which the case was approached and the paternity test addressed after the broadcast. The choices made by RTÉ were utterly misjudged and wrong…”

    then you know that there is something very wrong indeed in their basic set-up. These days, short of an allegation of murder, you can’t actually make a more serious accusation against someone. That lady, and the production team, should never be allowed to present another programme. One assumes that disciplinary measures have been taken. If I were in their management, I think I’d be giving serious consideration to initiating a case for dismissal on the basis of gross incompetence, or at the very least suspension without pay for a lengthy period along with a reduction in grade/salary.

  2. Jaykay, I hope so too, but I’m not holding my breath.

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