Northern Ireland

Dromore Diocese knew about priest abuse allegations for weeks

Canon Francis Brown
Image caption Canon Francis Brown vehemently denies any wrongdoing

The Catholic Diocese of Dromore left Canon Francis Brown in ministry for six weeks after it was informed about a serious sexual abuse allegation against him, the BBC understands.

The Nolan Show has spoken to the alleged victim and confirms the allegation relates to a period when the priest was in St Colman's College, a boys' school in Newry.

Canon Brown vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

A police investigation is ongoing.

A Nolan Show investigation has established that when the allegation was brought to a member of the diocese, they failed to record even basic details, as diocesan child safeguarding protocols required.

The complaint was then passed to the Diocese of Dromore's child safeguarding officer, Pat Carville, who informed the police immediately.

However, she could not do anything about the other member of the diocese's earlier failure to record basic details of the allegation, which meant she was only able to pass scant information onto the PSNI.

The only information Ms Carville was able to pass on to police was Canon Brown's name, but she could not supply the name of alleged victim or the name or contact details of the member of the public who made the allegation.

Canon Brown released a statement on Sunday 20 May 2018 which said: "Naturally I have agreed therefore to step aside from my role as administrator of the parish for the time being to allow the investigation to be completed."

Canon Brown's solicitors said he "categorically asserts that he has never at any time behaved inappropriately to any child or adult."

They added: "Police have not asked to meet with Canon Brown and, if they do make such a request, he will co-operate fully with them in any investigation which they undertake.

"It is expected that Canon Brown will be treated in accordance with due process and that he will not be deprived of the guarantees and presumptions which attach to this and every investigation.

"To do otherwise would cause prejudice and harm to the process.

"It is not appropriate for Canon Brown to make any further comment at this time."

'I have nothing to report'

The Nolan Show reports that the priest was confronted by a member of the public at least one month before he discussed it with his diocese.

The allegation was put to Canon Brown at the beginning of March 2018 and then again a number of weeks later.

On the second occasion, the priest refused to make his diocese aware of the allegation against him, denying it was his responsibility to refer himself to the Church authorities.

Canon Brown told that member of the public: "I have nothing to report" and told them that they should report the matter to the safeguarding officer themselves.

When the allegation was put to him by the member of the public, he denied ever having abused anyone.

Image caption Canon Brown is the administrator of Newry Cathedral Parish

The Diocese of Dromore's guidelines state that when someone makes a complaint they should be provided with contact details of the Designated Liaison Person as the disclosing person may wish to ask questions later.

It is our understanding this did not happen.

The BBC understands it was a month before the diocese's safeguarding officer Pat Carville formally spoke to Canon Brown about the allegation.

The BBC also understands that when Pat Carville did go to the police, she could tell them the name of the priest the allegation was made against, but not the nature of the allegation.

It was only after the alleged victim contacted the police - over a month later - that the investigation could be progressed.

In response to questions from the Nolan Show to Pat Carville, the Diocese of Dromore said: "Issues of safeguarding are taken very seriously in the Diocese of Dromore and, as per our policies and the direction of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) we co-operate fully with the police and social services in regard to complaints, allegations and suspicions referred to the diocese.

"We are aware of an ongoing police investigation at this time and will not be in a position to comment on these matters until the police have completed their enquiries.

"We would ask that any information you have is passed to the police as soon as possible to assist them in this investigation."

After Canon Brown stood down from all duties while a police investigation was pending, the Diocese of Dromore continued to publish his name and email address as the point of contact for all youth ministry.

Canon Brown sits on the board of governors of two schools in the diocese where he has responsibility for child safeguarding.

When the Nolan Show contacted St Joseph's Boys High School in Newry to ask if Canon Brown is still the point of contact for concerns regarding suspected child abuse within the school, a spokesperson said: "The school is unable to make any comment in regard to this matter in light of the ongoing police investigation".

St Clare's Abbey Primary School in Newry, where Canon Brown was still listed as chairman of governors and one of the last points of contact for child safeguarding issues, did not respond to the questions about whether this was still the case, issuing the same statement.

Both schools referred us to the Diocese of Dromore, who didn't confirm whether or not Canon Brown still held safeguarding positions on their boards.