A documentary programme on BBC2 last night charted the scandal surrounding Fr John Fortune, a Catholic priest in Ireland who committed suicide in 1999, while standing trial on charges of child abuse. Some of his victims are currently suing the church, who they say ignored complaints about Fr Fortune for many years. For more information on the programme visit the BBC website on: www.bbc.co.uk/correspondent Today we received the following letter from the Diocese of Ferns: In response to an invitation from Ms Sarah McDonald (BBC Correspondent) to participate in a programme "Suing the Pope", Bishop Comiskey replied on 4th February 2002: Having given much thought to your invitation, I have decided against taking part in the documentary you are making. Unfortunately, I have found that my engaging with this issue in the media has been too often misrepresented as arguing in public against the survivors and as refusing to acknowledge and apologise for the great damage than has been done to vulnerable children. This, I think, has brought more hurt than healing The sexual abuse of a child is deeply abhorrent to me as it is to any right minded person. When the perpetrator of such evil is an ordained priest, the violation of a child, both psychologically and spiritually, is all the greater. I have publicly apologised already and do so again now to any person in the Diocese of Ferns who has been sexually abused by a priest. Along with others in positions of authority I have learned many painful lessons about the pervasiveness of child sexual abuse. I know that in responding in the past to complaints of abuse I have not always got it right. I have however endeavoured always to act justly and appropriately. I am informed in my approach today by the Church guidelines published in 1996 (of which I enclose a copy), by improved State guidelines and by our increased awareness that responses to the problem of child sexual abuse must involve a multidisciplinary approach and cooperation between State and voluntary agencies. I continue to maintain an open door policy to survivors of child sexual abuse. Some have already found themselves able to accept this invitation, and healing and reconciliation - however modest in some cases - continues to be achieved. It is here that I think I can make the best contribution. My foremost wish now is that survivors of child sexual abuse within this Diocese would feel able to come forward to me confident of an appropriate and caring response. It is only by engagement that reconciliation can become a possibility. I hope that through your film my desire for reconciliation with those who have suffered abuse may be expressed... It is to be regretted that Ms McDonald chose to ignore this statement. Bishop Comiskey again reiterates both his heartfelt apology to the survivors and an invitation to them to come forward when and where they feel themselves able and willing. In addition to this public invitation to the survivors and as a result of their comments on the BBC, he now feels himself permitted to write to the four men involved. This is a course of action which the Bishop has - to date - not felt free to take lest it be misinterpreted as seeking to dissuade them from the legal route to justice, which is their natural right.
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