This guidance excludes Bishops, Supreme Moderators or their equivalents as defined in Vos estis lux mundi, for guidance on the process for these members of Church personnel see 2.3. This guidance also excludes other Church authorities outside of the definitions contained in Vos estis lux mundi, for guidance on the process for these members of Church personnel see 2.42.
Following the initial investigation report prepared by the delegated person 2.29, if the respondent denies the allegation and there is insufficient evidence that there is a case to answer, and the statutory authorities are not taking any further action, then the preliminary investigation must be concluded by decree (S4.49), the CDF is informed and the respondent should be confirmed as being ‘in good standing’. When an accusation is shown to be false (malicious/unfounded),8 the respondent should be returned to ministry.
To do this, the following should serve as a guide to the steps that may be taken
- Once it has been established that there is no case to answer, and that all state authority investigations or prosecutions are concluded, the Church authority should meet with the respondent to consider how and when a return to ministry can be achieved;
- It is important that all outstanding matters are addressed prior to any return to ministry. Therefore, in preparation, the respondent should be provided with counselling and support to assist them to deal with any residual anger/distress. This preparation for a return to ministry should include spiritual direction, reflection and discussions with the Church authority. It is understandable that the respondent may be angry at the process, but this anger should be addressed appropriately so as not to interfere with future ministry;
- Following counselling, spiritual direction and reflection, the Church authority should meet the respondent to agree what ministry they will undertake. If the ministry involves a return to a previous community/parish/service, agreement should be reached about how to communicate the return. Consideration should be given to the Church authority accompanying the respondent to the first liturgy, where a statement can be made about the respondent being a priest/religious in good standing;
- The respondent should continue to be provided with support for an agreed period after the return to ministry;
- The respondent should be reminded of the child safeguarding policy and procedures and code of behaviour when ministering to children and should agree to working within these procedures. At any stage of this process, the Church authority can consult the NCMC or their own advisory panel.
Words such as ‘false’, ‘unfounded’, ‘unsubstantiated’ and ‘malicious’ are often used in the same context when describing an allegation. However, the meanings are different. The term ‘false’ can be broken down into two categories: 1) malicious – this implies a deliberate act to deceive. For an allegation to be malicious, it will be necessary to have evidence that proves this intention; 2) unfounded – this indicates that the complainant misinterpreted the incident or was mistaken about what they saw. For an allegation to be classified as unfounded, it will be necessary to have evidence to disprove the allegation. An unsubstantiated allegation is where there is insufficient identifiable evidence to prove or disprove the allegation. The term does not imply guilt or innocence.