Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Diocese breached safeguarding protocols in Canon Brown allegation

The Diocese of Dromore has been accused of serious breaches of child safeguarding protocol, after a BBC investigation revealed that Canon Francis Brown was allowed to remain in public ministry for six weeks after the diocese was made aware of a serious sexual abuse allegation against him.   

In a statement released by Canon Brown last Sunday (20th May), the former principal of St. Colman’s College in Newry, announced that he was stepping aside from his role as Administrator of the Parish in light of the allegation, which he said had been “made recently.” He added that he would not be involved in ministry until the police investigation into the “historic allegation” was completed and he said that the details of the allegation had not yet been made known to him or the diocese.  

The BBC Nolan Show revealed last week however that the allegation was first put to Canon Brown by a member of the public at the beginning of March this year. The member of public spoke to the Canon again a number of weeks later to ask if he had referred the allegation to the diocese, but was told by the Canon, “I have nothing to report” and that they should report the matter to the diocese safeguarding officer themselves. 

The Nolan Show investigation discovered that the allegation was then brought to a priest in the diocese who failed to record basic details in line with required child safeguarding protocols, with the result that when child safeguarding officer, Pat Carville, received the complaint, she had scant details to pass on to the PSNI. 

According to the BBC, it was only when the alleged victim contacted the police more than a month later that the investigation could be progressed.

As reported by The Examiner last week, Canon Brown’s announcement that he was stepping aside amid the allegation came just days after he led a May procession and celebrated Mass at St. Ronan’s Primary School in Newry.  With police confirming that the historical allegation was reported to them in April, concerned parents had already questioned why Canon Brown was not immediately suspended from clerical duties and how he could officiate over a primary school ceremony when such an allegation had been made against him.  The Nolan show also revealed that, even though the diocese knew about the allegation, Brown continued with his ministerial work, celebrating Mass with school groups over Easter.

The Examiner spoke to the concerned mum of a St. Ronan’s pupil, who said she finds it “absolutely shocking” that Canon Brown was still permitted to celebrate mass in schools. 

“It really smacks of arrogance from both the diocese and Canon Brown that they can flout basic safeguarding protocols this way,” she said. 

“If an allegation of such nature was made against you or I we would immediately be prohibited from carrying out any work involving children. Why then is it acceptable that, despite an allegation of a serious sexual assault made against him, Canon Brown was still permitted to celebrate Mass and lead our children’s May procession?  I’m just disgusted that our children have been disregarded in this way.  

The angry mum added, “To hear that the Canon himself was made aware of the allegation in March and that he chose to continue in his work with children regardless, just sickens me.  A lot of the parents have been talking about it this week and we find it quite frightening that the Diocese of Dromore and indeed, the Catholic church, seems to believe it’s above the law, above any required protocols and procedures and, given the raft of child abuse scandals that have emerged in this area in the last few months, that’s very disturbing.”

The Nolan Show also raised the issue of Canon Brown’s name and email address remaining listed as the point of contact for all youth ministry in the diocese and the fact that he sits on the board of governors at St.Joseph’s Boys High School and St. Clare’s Abbey Primary School.  Having put the question to both schools as to whether he would remain on the boards while the police investigation was ongoing, neither school would comment. 

A Diocesan spokesperson confirmed to Nolan that “while he (Canon Brown) may currently be named on some school websites as a member of the safeguarding team he has voluntarily stepped aside from all ministry and such publications are under revision.” 

A further statement issued by Canon Brown’s solicitors to the show said he “categorically asserts that he has never at any time behaved inappropriately to any child or adult.”

 “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.”