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Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Irish bishop resigns over abuse scandal
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¬†The bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey, has resigned because of increasing pressure over his management of sex abuse by four priests in his diocese which had been highlighted in a BBC documentary a week ago. In a statement which he read to the media but refused to elaborate on, the bishop apologised to four men who spoke publicly on the programme about the abuse they suffered at the hands of the late Fr Sean Fortune who committed suicide before he was due to appear in court on a string of abuse charges and to other victims of abuse by priests.Dr Comiskey said the sexual abuse of children was "deeply abhorrent" to him and he apologised also to the families of victims and to other people who were offended or hurt by Fr Fortune. He claimed that he had done his best in endeavouring to deal with the "complexity and conflict which always surrounded Fr Fortune" but added "clearly this was not good enough." Dr Comiskey said he had found Fr Fortune "virtually impossible to deal with". "I confronted him regularly, for a time I removed him from ministry, I sought professional advice in several quarters, I listened to the criticisms and the praise, I tried compassion and I tried firmness; treatment was sought and arranged - and yet I never managed to achieve any level of satisfactory outcome. "Fr Fortune committed very grave wrongs and hurt many people" the bishop continued. "Despite the difficulties he presented in management terms I should have adopted a more informed and more concerted approach in my dealings with him and for this I ask forgiveness." He said that one of the tasks undertaken by a priest in pastoral ministry was to bring unity among people of faith. "It is a sad reality that wherever Fr Fortune served he brought division and pain." "As bishop I should be a binding force among people and priests within the ministry of the Church. I had hoped that I could bring about reconciliation between the diocese and those who were abused. Such, I hope, might be part of their healing". He said it was in that spirit that he had proposed to write to the four men involved in the documentary. Bishop Comiskey said that in the wake of continuing pressure and criticism, he now recognised that he was "not the person who can best achieve these aims of unity and reconciliation". "My continuation in office could indeed be an obstacle to healing. For these reasons, on Thursday last I tendered my resignation as Bishop to Pope John Paul. I travel to Rome later this week in furtherance of this process." Dr Comiskey said he trusted his successor would carry forward the vital work of healing and reconciliation in the diocese and said he would be available to my successor in whatever way was useful to be part of that. On his personal position, the bishop said that he had cherished his 18 years as a bishop and now intended to undertake initially "a period of personal discernment as I prepare for the next stage in my life." He said he looked forward, with God's help, to continuing his work as a priest "as determined in consultation with my ecclesiastical superiors in Rome." The bishop's resignation came as a surprise although it was anticipated he would make a statement to attempt to clear the air before Tuesday's scheduled broadcast by RTE television of the 'Correspondent' documentary. He had opted out of attending Good Friday ceremonies in his diocese and had run the gauntlet of media when he officiated at Easter vigil ceremonies in St Aidan's Cathedral in Enniscorthy. He made no reference to the controversy in his homily and declined to be interviewed. The bishop's handling of allegations involving Fr Fortune, Fr Donal Collins who was jailed for sex offences and the late Fr Jim Grennan have clouded a very promising church career. Ordained in 1961, he was head of the Sacred Heart Congregation at the age of 34, an auxiliary bishop of Dublin at 45 and bishop of Ferns at 47. After being summoned to Rome to explain his public criticism of the church's policy on married clergy, Dr Comiskey stunned his diocese by announcing he was taking a sabbatical partly because of a drink problem. On his return, the normally media-friendly bishop kept a lower profile. Last year, he re-emerged to the limelight to chair the organising committee for the Irish visit of St Therese of Lisieux. In a separate joint statement issued to coincide with Bishop Comiskey's resignation, the two most senior members of the Irish hierarchy, Cardinal Desmond Connell and Archbishop SeŠn Brady, said the sexual abuse of children by priests was "an especially grave and repugnant evil". They offered "profound apologies" to all victims of such abuse, their families and their parish communities. "We offer this statement on behalf of all the bishops because we realise that the whole Church in Ireland is suffering at this time from the scandal caused by this evil and the manner in which it was dealt with at times" "It is a scandal which has evoked entirely justified outrage. The sexual abuse of children by priests is totally in conflict with the Church's mission and with Christ's compassion and care for the young." "We believe that the protection of children is of paramount importance. The document "Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response", was adopted jointly by the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Bishops Conference in 1996 to ensure correct procedures for handling complaints or allegations of Child Sexual Abuse by priests and religious" they pointed out. "These guidelines, which include procedures for reporting to the civil authorities and outreach to victims, are still being followed throughout this island and are reinforced by the services of the Child Protection Office established by the Irish Bishops Conference in 2001." The two archbishops said they were greatly saddened by the circumstances surrounding Bishop Comiskey's resignation. "It is his own personal decision and comes out of a context of deep human suffering, both of victims of abuse and of himself. " "May the memory of all the good he has done in the service of his people and clergy be a source of consolation to him in the future." "We realise that the events of recent weeks have also caused great distress and anxiety to the faithful throughout Ireland, particularly those of the diocese of Ferns and the parishes affected. Not only has trust in the Catholic Church been damaged, but so too has the faith of the people and the morale of clergy." "In this Easter Season we pray that the Risen Lord will inspire all of us to bring new life and healing to victims of child sexual abuse and that He will give us the courage to renew our efforts to bring about reconciliation and peace regarding this painful issue. " Fifty people held a vigil in solidarity with Bishop Comiskey outside his house on Monday evening after his resignation announcement. But Pat Furlong, one of the Fortune abuse victims, said they had not wanted the bishop to resign. He said the "witch-hunt" of the past two weeks had "served no purpose."
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