ID cards for priests to counter bogus clerics

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The Independent Online
CATHOLIC PRIESTS could be forced to carry ecclesiastical passports at all times as part of the Church's attempt to clamp down on bogus and child-abusing clergy.

Priests used to be obliged to produce an identification document, known as a "celebret" - Latin for "let him celebrate" (Mass) - if they were visiting a parish. But the practice became less common because both parties found it embarrassing.

Nicholas Coote, assistant general secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference in England and Wales, now proposes that the custom be revived. It would enable impostors and those dismissed or suspended to be easily spotted.

"Thirty years ago celebrets were used very strictly, but then priests became a bit casual because it was embarrassing to say to another priest, `Let me see your credentials'," said Mr Coote. "It's like saying, `You may be a conman, you may be in bad odour in the Church or have been slung out by your bishop'."

The preventative measure is one of several proposals which have emerged from a working party looking into what to do with abusing clergy following treatment or prison. A report, which includes ways to reduce risk in the first place, will be presented to the Bishops' Conference by Mr Coote after Easter.

The proposals come at a time when Our Lady of Victory, the Catholic rehabilitation home for priests with alcohol or psycho-sexual problems, is radically altering its approach. The Rev Benedict Livingstone, director of the home in Brownshill, Gloucestershire, will this week appoint a chartered clinical psychologist to review the therapeutic programmes available to clergy and brothers. In the past, the emphasis has been on using prayer to deal with psychological problems, with the stress on forgiveness rather than treatment.

"We are a religious order," he said. "We are finding it quite difficult to fulfil all the roles that we have done in the past with our own men. We want to make sure we can offer the best possible professional help in every area and, in order to do that, we need more secular input."

The advertisement for the post in the Catholic weekly, The Tablet, stipulated that applicants should "be familiar with cognitive and psychodynamic approaches" and be prepared to "work respectfully and comfortably within the Catholic faith".

Mr Livingstone was drafted from the US, where the religious order which runs Our Lady of Victory is based. Last year there were rumours that the clinic would close, and a Vatican review was set up after an admission that it did not have the specialised skills necessary to deal with "high-risk cases".

Mr Coote welcomed the appointment of a clinical director at Our Lady of Victory, which houses only 12 residents at present. "It looks to me as if they are trying to get their act together. We have been wondering whether they are not more suited to sorting out alcoholism than the more specialised field of sexual problems," he said.

The Catholic Church has recently been sending abusing clergy to the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a secular institution in the south of England. "There is no reason why priests should have professional exemption," said Mr Coote. "Some people feel the religious bit provides a last refuge behind which priests can hide. At the Lucy Faithfull Foundation priests are treated like any other child abuser."

Last week the Catholic Church was accused of failing to adhere to its 1994 guidelines on dealing with allegations of child abuse, after it was revealed that two priests in the Midlands were still working despite allegations against them. Under the guidelines, they should have been removed from contact with children while police and social workers investigate.