Irish Government Plans Inquiry Into Reports of Abuse by Priests

April 6, 2002


New York Times

DUBLIN, April 5 - Ireland's health minister, Micheal
Martin, has announced a formal government investigation
into the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests
in a rural diocese after growing public pressure and
lobbying by victims' rights groups.

The inquiry follows the resignation on Monday of Bishop
Brendan Oliver Comiskey, once the Irish church's most
popular and media-savvy spokesman.

Bishop Comiskey acknowledged that he did not do enough to
stop a pedophile priest, the Rev. Sean Fortune, from
continuing to abuse children in the diocese of Ferns,
County Wexford, throughout the 1980's and 90's. Father
Fortune committed suicide in 1999, after 66 criminal
charges of sexual assaults against eight boys were brought
against him.

Calls for Bishop Comiskey's resignation and for government
involvement increased earlier this month after a television
documentary by the BBC that included graphic testimony from
four of Father Fortune's victims, who are now in their
30's. The documentary also disclosed the extent to which
Bishop Comiskey and other church authorities knew about the

The government investigation, announced on Thursday night,
will begin in three months, after a preliminary report by a
top-ranking lawyer and former member of Parliament, George
Bermingham. Mr. Bermingham does not have the power to
subpoena documents, but Mr. Martin said he hoped the church
would comply with his requests.

Father Fortune's victims responded positively to the
announcement. "What I'm really heartened by is the
absolutely clear commitment to get to the truth in all of
these matters," said Colm O'Gorman, one of three victims to
meet with Mr. Martin.

The church's two senior Irish officials, Cardinal Desmond
Connell of Dublin and Archbishop Sean Baptist Brady of
Armagh, have issued statements of apology condemning child
abuse within the church. But they have declined to comment
on the protracted abuse in County Wexford, saying they do
not know enough, even though the allegations against Father
Fortune were repeatedly brought to the attention of church
authorities, and even the Vatican.

The Vatican and the Catholic Church in Ireland will issue
statements on Saturday, and the association of Irish
bishops has called an emergency meeting to discuss the

In a radio interview with the state-run RTE, Attorney
General Michael McDowell suggested that the privileged
relationship between priest and bishop would not be immune
to the demands of the state investigation.

"We can't afford to have notions of confidentiality which
are not legally recognized and which are not
constitutionally defensible stand in the way of getting at
the truth," he said.