Among the actions that may be necessary during both a statutory investigation and a Church inquiry is the restriction of a respondent’s exercise of their office and/or sacred ministry and apostolate. A respondent may be asked to withdraw from a particular office and from other forms of sacred ministry and apostolate, including public celebration of the Eucharist and other sacraments during the course of any statutory – as well as Church and canonical – investigation. The respondent may also be required to cease from wearing clerical attire.
There are two factors that will determine the Bishop’s action in this regard:
- The threshold for reporting to the statutory authorities has been reached;
- An initial assessment of the potential risk to children has been conducted.
Prior to deciding how to respond, advice may be sought on either or both of these issues from the NCMC or from the statutory authorities. Each case will have to be considered on its own merits. The advice provided to the Bishop should specifically include an assessment of the credibility of the allegation, and the potential risk arising as a consequence.
If a decision has been made by the Bishop that it is necessary and appropriate to ask that a period of leave from sacred ministry be initiated, the following procedure must be employed.
This procedure outlines the processes to be engaged when leave and restriction from sacred ministry and apostolate are required. It should be read in conjunction with the process outlined in Standard 2: Procedures for Responding to Child Protection Suspicions, Concerns, Knowledge or Allegations, which sets out in detail actions to be taken following receipt of an allegation. All actions should be confirmed in writing and a date of review of actions set.
The process of leave for sacred ministry begins at Point 7 in 2.24 – Informing the Respondent.
- The Bishop will judge the level of risk and may be assisted in doing so by the statutory authorities, DLP, NCMC and advisor (2.25). A decision will be made at this stage as to whether an interim management plan is required (See S4.41) which may include restrictions to sacred ministry.
- A written reminder is given to the respondent from the Bishop to advise them to continue following the child safeguarding policies and procedures (See S4.42)
- If required, the DLP and advisor will meet the respondent and present them with the interim management plan, which the respondent will be asked to agree to and sign. During this meeting, the respondent must be advised that the canonical process, which has been paused, will resume following conclusion of any statutory authority enquiries (2.28).
- While the allegations are being investigated, the presumption of innocence applies. Leave from sacred ministry is therefore a precautionary measure. It does not impute guilt, nor should the action (of leave from ministry) per se prejudice any statutory or canon law process.
- If the respondent is in a role that involves contact with children, and if it is in the interests of safeguarding children, then the respondent should be invited to request leave from sacred ministry and apostolate for the course of the statutory and/or canonical investigations. Where this is agreed, there should be clarity regarding what the restrictions on sacred ministry and apostolate are.
- Limitations to sacred ministry and apostolate are made in accordance with Canon Law, and should be considered by the Bishop. If the respondent declines to request leave from ministry, and if continuing sacred ministry or apostolate would constitute a risk to children, advice may be sought from the statutory authorities, the NCMC. The Bishop should also take canonical advice on how to proceed in each case. The Bishop can issue a decree or precept outlining, at least in summary form, their decision, and outlining the respondent’s restrictions on the exercise of their ministry or apostolate.
- Agreement should be reached, if possible, between the Bishop and the respondent in relation to the following: – How to bring to completion the transfer of any unfinished tasks, in relation to the respondent’s ministry, that do not involve access to children; Residency of the respondent: consideration may be given to allowing the respondent to continue to reside in their current accommodation if it is perceived not to present any risk to children, and where alternative accommodation is available for any administrator/ replacement. This should be agreed with the respondent, together with a reasonable time frame for vacating the current residence (if considered necessary). The Bishop should also ensure that reasonable costs incurred in obtaining suitable alternative accommodation are met; – If possible, the respondent should be supported to engage in other work/study during the period of leave from sacred ministry and apostolate, as long as it does not involve sacred ministry and apostolate or contact with children; If the respondent is a cleric, he must be required to return his celebret to the Bishop prior to taking administrative leave.
- During this meeting, the respondent should be advised of the canonical process that will be initiated following conclusion of any statutory authority enquiries. After this meeting – if the respondent has been removed from ministry – the following should be considered:
a. When an allegation has been received and a priest or religious is taking leave from sacred ministry and apostolate, the Bishop is responsible for what is communicated about this change, to whom, and how this is communicated. The preferred approach is for any public communication to be agreed with the respondent, where the presumption of innocence should be emphasised;
b. Great care needs to be taken not to prejudice the outcome of any civil, criminal or canonical investigation, and consultation with relevant statutory authorities may assist in this regard;
c. consideration may also be given to the inclusion in any public communication, if one is to be made, of information regarding how people affected can access pastoral support.
- The Bishop must ensure that all public references to the respondent are removed on an interim basis, e.g details on parish websites or communications (newsletters etc) school websites; external boards. If the respondent is to remain out of a ministry for an extensive period, consideration should also be given to the removal of photographs and commemorative acknowledgements of the respondent.
Appeals Where restrictions to sacred ministry and apostolate have been directed through a decree or precept, there is the possibility of an appeal in accordance with Canon Law.