Tuesday November 22, 2011

Priest Libeled By RTE "Not Looking For Revenge"

In the crosshairs, RTEā€ˆreporter Aoife Kavanagh (Photocall)

The Catholic priest who was libeled by RTE's flagship current affairs programs when they wrongly claimed he had fathered a child with a young Kenyan girl insists he is not looking for revenge.

Fr Kevin Reynolds, to whom RTE has agreed to pay a substantial settlement, says he forgives everyone involved, despite the distress and torment caused to him by the national broadcaster.

"I feel relieved it's all over. It has been an awful and devastating experience," Fr Reynolds told the Sunday Independent.

"I want to say now, I do not have any feelings of revenge or anger. I just want to get over this and on with my life.

"I am not looking for blood. I'm not looking for any revenge. As a priest, of course, whoever wrongs me, I will forgive them and I can say from the bottom of my heart they are forgiven."

Fr Reynolds (65) sued RTE after it broadcast a "Prime Time Investigates" report entitled "Mission to Prey", which claimed to deal with the abuse of children and teenagers by Irish missionaries in Africa.

The show contained the wholly untrue allegation that he had raped a teenage girl in Kenya in 1982 while working as a missionary in Africa, fathered and abandoned a child by her.

Viewers saw footage of reporter Aoife Kavanagh confronting Fr Reynolds at his parish church in Ahascragh, Co. Galway on May 7th this year, two weeks before the broadcast.

More than half a million people watched the RTE broadcast, and around 338,000 heard the baseless allegation discussed the following morning on RTE radio's flagship show "Morning Ireland".

It later emerged that not only had Fr Reynolds strenuously denied the allegation, but he had offered to take a paternity test to prove he was not the father of the child.

Incredibly, RTE broadcast the allegation without taking advantage of the paternity test offer to prove the claim one way or the other.

A major internal investigation has now been ordered in RTE to find out how the story made it to air.

The libel settlement approved by the High Court in Dublin last week included a lengthy statement of apology which was broadcast on TV and radio, and printed in several national and local newspapers.

RTE had already broadcast another apology pre-emptively some weeks ago when news of the paternity test came through proving Fr Reynolds innocence.

The amount of damages to be paid to Fr Reynolds has not been revealed but it is suspected to be well into seven figures.

He was awarded not only compensatory damages for the cost to his reputation, but also aggravated damages, which are awarded as a punishment to RTE.

Fr Reynolds described how the enormity of the abhorrent crime of which was publicly and globally accused marred his fortieth year as a priest.

He was forced to step aside from his ministry as the show was broadcast.

"The worst day was signing a form to say that I would freely withdraw from all public priestly ministries. That was very difficult," he told the Sunday Independent.

"But the lowest point of all was driving to Dublin alone on the eve of when the program was to be aired. Driving out of my priesthood, out of my parish in a complete daze, wondering what on earth had happened. My whole world had collapsed.

"That's an experience I wouldn't like to relive. I didn't sleep that night and there was no sleep for many, many nights after that.

"The morning after the program, I didn't want to be seen. I was afraid in case someone would recognize me and take a pot shot at me. But I got over that pretty fast. After a while I said, 'No, I have to face the world'."

He describes how some legal experts warned him against taking on "the might of RTE", but Fr Reynolds was determined to clear his name.

With the help of the Association of Catholic Priests, and a solicitor Robert Dore, who agreed to take the case on a pro-bono basis, they lodged the complaint against RTE. Initially RTE had sought to defend itself, but when the paternity test proved Fr Reynolds's innocence, that defense was dropped.

RTE has apologized fully and unreservedly to Fr Reynolds and has said the programs should never have been broadcast.

It is now struggling to deal with the fallout from the staggering mistake, amid growing calls for heads to roll.

While Fr Reynolds has said he is not seeking any revenge, others have pointed out that if such a mistake occurred in any other organization, RTE would be asking who was taking responsibility.

Attention is focusing on reporter, Aoife Kavanagh, the executive producer, Brian Pairceir, and the Prime Time editor Ken O'Shea, as well as the head of RTE's News and Current Affairs department Ed Mulhall.

RTE's head of communications Kevin Dawson indicated that nobody would lose their jobs as a result of the action.

"It is very difficult for a rolled head to learn anything," he said during an interview on RTE radio.

But that statement has done little to quell the mounting criticism.

Senior figures from RTE are to be hauled before an Oireachtas committee this week to answer questions about the affair from TDs and Senators.

Meanwhile, solicitor Richard Dore, who represented Fr Reynolds, has said he would like to find out who Ms Kavanagh's sources for the story were.

While trying to convince RTE of his innocence prior to the broadcast, Fr Reynolds was told by Aoife Kavanagh that she had a very credible third party source for the story in addition to the Kenyan woman who made the claim on the program.

Mr Dore said he was very interested in who this source was because if there was a "loose cannon" prepared to make malicious allegations about his clients, there was nothing to say they wouldn't do the same to another individual.

He said he didn't believe journalistic confidentiality applied in this case.

Meanwhile, Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four, which helps victims of child sex abuse, welcomed the vindication of Fr Reynolds.

She said the woman who had made the original allegation against him had done a disservice to victims.

Fr Sean McDonagh of the Association of Catholic Priests, said he hoped the case would be "a wake-up call".

"Priests have got a very bad presentation, unbalanced to the extent that the public think one in five priests is a pedophile when the reality was closer to two to three per cent.

"We're not asking for special treatment, we're just asking for truth, fairness and justice."

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