A senior Catholic Church leader in Ireland has all but called for heads to roll at state broadcaster RTE over the Prime Time Priest libel.
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has told the Irish Independent newspaper that those responsible for the libellous claims against Fr Kevin Reynolds must be held accountable.
Fr Reynolds has already won a figure believed to be over $2million in libel damages after the TV station claimed he had raped a teenage girl in Kenya in 1982, impregnated her and subsequently abandoned both the mother and her daughter.
Bishop Martin, the second ranked senior cleric in the country, is the most high profile critic of RTE’s handling of the case yet.
As the state broadcaster awaits the reports from three separate investigations into the libel, one of them ordered by the government, the Dublin archbishop has hit out strongly at the decision makers who let the Prime Time Investigates special go to air.
“In a similar situation, a bishop would be told to voluntarily resign rather than temporarily stand aside,” said Bishop Martin after four RTE staff involved with the show stood down pending the various investigations.
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The Bishop added: “If this were in the church the bishops would be told to voluntarily resign rather than stand aside. The level of accountability has to be questioned here, it took a long time before people came and held their hands up and said ‘look we made a serious mistake here.” he said.
The Dublin church leader acknowledged that those who had stood aside had made the correct decision but he suggested the investigations should go to the very top of the state owned station.
“This case raises basic questions about the controls that there are in an organisation which would allow this to happen to anybody,” said Bishop Martin.
“This was a very serious allegation, the man offered to have a paternity test done, so we need to understand why, and who, and at what level those decisions were made.
“There is an investigation going on to see exactly what happened but I imagine the journalist felt there were sources there and we will have to see whether or not the security checks were in place and properly adhered to.
“I will not cast any judgments while investigations into the case are ongoing but it worried me how a story was broadcast which was later described by RTE in its apology as baseless and untrue.
“What worries me is RTE say this is without foundation, baseless and untrue. How did it come that it was adjudicated that there was a semblance of truth here?
“I don’t know what evidence was presented to whoever asked Fr Reynolds to step aside but RTE made their programme, they seemed to be defended by many people the next day, ‘Morning Ireland’ picked it up and the Minister for Justice made statements on it and now we hear it was without foundation.”
The Bishop also called for ‘greater accountability’ within the Irish media.
He said: “In the UK you have the issue of the behaviour of some News of the World’ journalists, obviously self monitoring hasn’t always worked.
“We have to foster press freedom and respect it, but if journalists can act irresponsibly or newspapers or public broadcasting authorities then we need a situation where there is accountability to satisfy the public that this kind of thing can’t happen to you or I.”