Belfast Telegraph

Priests' body criticises funeral 'snub' to abuse accused clergy

By Nick Bramhill

Priests who die while facing accusations of sexual abuse are being denied traditional Catholic funerals, even if they weren't convicted.

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has voiced concern over the funeral arrangements of stepped-down members of clergy, with one member claiming that even deceased murderers and gangland criminals are laid to rest with more dignity.

The National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) has published a list of broad guidelines to Church authorities on how to discreetly conduct the funerals of clerics who were facing abuse allegations when they died.

But some dioceses in Ireland have adopted even more stringent policies for funerals of priests facing accusations.

These include rulings that funerals take place in a private chapel, no death notice be published, the deceased be referred to only by his Christian name throughout the rites, and not be buried in his clerical garb.

The NBSCCCI said the guidelines are in place because "pastoral concern for complainants must be considered in the situation where a priest/religious dies following receipt of a credible allegation".

However, a leading member of ACP said the rulings go too far and cause unnecessary heartache for surviving family members.

Fr Tim Hazelwood said: "We're concerned about the funeral arrangements for stepped-down priests or those facing accusations, particularly for priests who have been accused of something but nothing has been proved.

"I personally know an elderly priest who's been facing an accusation which he totally denies of a case dating back 40 years.

"In his case he will be denied a proper Catholic funeral and it's causing him and his family terrible distress.

"The situation differs from diocese to diocese, but in general priests in this situation are treated terribly.

"Even members of the Kinahan gang or convicted murderers can expect proper Catholic funerals, but that's not the case with some priests, who really are treated like the lepers of Irish society."

One set of diocesan guidelines obtained by and published by the ACP suggests that "consideration be given to have the funeral liturgies in a private chapel and/or a time other than the usual times".

It recommends the priest not be buried in his clerical garb and be referred to during the rites by his Christian name, and that "if possible, no death notices should appear in the local or national newspapers or on internet websites", before adding that "the minimum of information should be given if it does appear".

A further recommendation said: "The funeral Mass is not to be concelebrated. No vestments to be worn by priests attending the funeral."

Fr Hazelwood added: "I do not know of any other group of people who have such restrictions placed on their funerals."

Co Cork priest Fr Hazelwood was falsely accused of the sexual abuse of a child a decade ago.

Eventually he discovered who the complainant was and made a complaint to Garda. However, a criminal case was not pursued and he opted to take a civil case in the Irish High Court.

In 2016 his accuser admitted making the false accusation and made a contribution to charity.

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