Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ is likely to face charges of anti-Catholic bias following a soon-to-be-published report into why it falsely accused a priest of raping a minor and fathering a child.
“The report must ascertain what misjudgments were made that caused Fr. Kevin Reynolds to be so badly libeled and who made the key decisions?” Irish social commentator David Quinn of the Dublin-based Iona Institute told CNA April 2.
The independent inquiry was launched after RTÉ’s current affairs series “Prime Time” broadcast an episode titled “Mission to Prey” in May 2011. The program wrongly accused County Galway priest Father Kevin Reynolds of raping and impregnating a minor while working in Kenya as a missionary 30 years ago. It also falsely alleged that Fr. Reynolds secretly provided financial support for the baby over many years.
Prior to broadcast, Fr. Reynolds had volunteered to undergo a DNA test to prove his innocence but RTÉ refused. He was subsequently removed from his home and parish ministry. His innocence was later proven however by two separate and independent DNA tests.
In November of 2011, Fr. Reynolds agreed to accept substantial damages from RTÉ in an out-of-court libel settlement. The broadcaster’s Director-General Noel Curran apologized and admitted it was “one of the gravest editorial mistakes ever made” in the stations 51-year history.
“Why did RTÉ not accept Fr. Reynolds’s offer of a paternity test? Has the presumption of innocence being lost in the case of priests?” Quinn asked.
“Will RTÉ bias only ever be exposed when a black and white scientific test is failed, or will some other criteria be developed to determine when bias is at work in the making of programs about the Catholic Church?”
The country’s official broadcasting watchdog, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, has now sent a copy of their independent investigation to RTÉ along with notification of the financial sanctions it plans to impose.
RTÉ could be fined up to 250,000 euros or $333,000 U.S. dollars. It will be given 14 days to respond to the broadcasting authority’s conclusions. At the end of the process, the authority will officially publish its report along with notification of the financial penalties imposed.