While acknowledging that the Catholic community has been hurt by the sex scandals that have rocked the Church globally, Archbishop of Kingston Most Rev Kenneth Richards says the Jamaican priest fingered by one alleged victim has said their relationship was consensual.
In fact, the archbishop, in a letter to the Jamaica Observer, said that the priest, whom he identified as Father Paul Collier, has since submitted a letter of resignation from the priesthood and asked pardon for all the hurt or scandal caused by him.
Jamaican Denise Buchanan, now 57 years old and an academic who is a leading member of the international organisation, Ending Clerical Abuse — which is trying to pressure Pope Francis to take a tougher line on child abuse by clerics — told Agence France Presse ( AFP) recently that she was 17 when she was raped by the then novitiate, who continued to abuse her when he became a priest.
Buchanan, who now teaches at a university in Los Angeles and works as a psychiatric neurologist, said she was living in Kingston when her sister introduced her and her family to the future priest, then known as Brother Paul, a theology student and a member of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
She told AFP that one day he invited her into the rectory and “showed (her) to his bedroom”, where he sexually assaulted her.
The wire service report also said that a few days after, Brother Paul allegedly raped her after making her drink some wine. Buchanan said she later discovered she was pregnant after fainting in a shop, leading Brother Paul to organise an illegal abortion for her.
He was later ordained a priest, taking vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity, but, according to Buchanan, still came by her university residence at least once a week for sex.
She told AFP that she got pregnant again at age 21 and had another backroom abortion.
The psychiatric neurologist told the international news agency that she has been unable to have children since, and has struggled in vain for years for the Church to officially recognise her as a victim — even writing to the pope himself — while the priest whom she accused of abusing her has escaped justice.
The AFP report said that in November 2017, Buchanan returned with a lawyer to Jamaica for a meeting with the local archbishop and Father Paul.
“At the meeting the priest confessed to having sex with me (not rape), he confessed that he got me pregnant but he did not admit to arranging the abortion,” AFP quoted her.
In the letter to the Observer on Wednesday, the archbishop of Kingston said Father Paul Collier acknowledged that before his entrance into the clerical state, more than 30 years ago, he had engaged in a “consensual relationship” with Buchanan — who was not a minor — which caused her pain and brought the Church into disrepute.
Archbishop Richards said the clergyman acknowledged his wrong and apologised.
“Paul Collier did not disclose this liaison to the bishop or any official of the Archdiocese of Kingston. They would not have known of it until the other party disclosed the events in recent times.
“Once this happened, Rev Paul Collier was suspended from ministry and all the required steps taken to report his conduct to the Vatican authorities,” the archbishop said. “The Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples has indicated that Paul Collier should no longer serve as a priest as his conduct has been incompatible with that office.”
In the meantime, Archbishop Richards said Catholics must strongly support the principled reaction by Pope Francis and the Caribbean bishops to expose, prosecute and punish offenders, and to reach out and care for all who have been subjected to abuse of any kind.
“Beyond these priorities, we stand in support of our clergy who, like all of us, strive to live chaste lives and who, at great sacrifice, continue to give witness to God’s grace among us.
“Side by side with disclosures of wrongdoing by clergy, come false allegations, unfounded suspicion and gossip, which can weaken effective ministry and cause irreparable personal harm,” the archbishop said.