Dublin ~ Wednesday March 3 2010
Vatican should pay, says O'Gorman
JAMIE SMYTH, Social Affairs Correspondent
THE VATICAN should meet the cost of the compensation and legal bills emanating from clerical child sex abuse claims in the diocese of Ferns rather than parishioners, Colm O’Gorman, founder of victims group One in Four has said.
Mr O’Gorman, who was sexually abused by Fr Seán Fortune and later sued the diocese of Ferns in a move that helped bring the issue of clerical sex abuse into the public domain, strongly criticised a call yesterday by Bishop of Ferns Dr Denis Brennan for parishioners to help pay the diocese legal bills.
“If the Vatican is serious about supporting the Irish church and the rebuilding and recovery of the church let it finance it,” said Mr O’Gorman, who added it was a bit rich for the diocese to ask parishioners to put their hands in their pocket to pay for the corruption of the institution of the church.
He said the Catholic Church was one of the wealthiest institutions on the planet and should show some of the much vaunted humility it is good at preaching but not good at practising.
He said victims of clerical sex abuse took cases against the church because they wanted to hold the institution responsible, not the people sitting in pews.
“I would encourage them to get the church to look to its own assets and own wealth. Anyone that was offended by the sheer vulgarity and grandiosity of the pictures that we saw coming out of the so-called summit by Irish bishops in Rome last week will see the amount of money that swills around in the Vatican and the global church coffers. Let [us] see them divest themselves of some of that sort of wealth,” he added.
Mr O’Gorman’s comments on RTÉ radio yesterday were echoed by another victim of clerical sex abuse, Christine Buckley. She told Newstalk the call by Dr Brennan for parishoners to help pay the bill for abuse was “outrageous”.
Dublin ~ Wednesday March 3 2010
A very bad day for the bishop
AFTER all that has been said and done, it is utterly incomprehensible that a Catholic bishop in charge of an Irish diocese, which has been plagued by sex abuse scandals and cover-ups, should be so blissfully unaware of the resonances his request to parishioners to help fund compensation would have.
Considering all the dreadful revelations and all the expressions of concern for victims, it is quite extraordinary that a bishop could fail to recognise that his request for donations to effectively help pay the church's legal costs would be regarded with contempt by those who suffered abuse and that the clumsy language he used would sound condescending.
Dr Denis Brennan, of the Co Wexford diocese of Ferns, said his appeal was not about sharing the blame but asking for help to meet responsibilities. Presumably he meant that his request for donations should not be interpreted as an attempt to extend responsibility and accountability for the sexual abuse of children to the people of the diocese.
An inquiry into paedophile priests in Ferns uncovered an appalling catalogue of abuse, with more than 100 allegations against 21 priests from the 1960s to 2005. Bishop Brendan Comiskey, who resigned in 2002, was found to have been negligent. The Vatican had been aware of complaints but chose to do nothing, the report found.
In view of this, the suggestion made more than once yesterday, that the Vatican should be asked to pay, rather than the ordinary parishioners of Wexford, is logical.
Dublin ~ Wednesday March 3 2010
Second bishop backs plan for parishioners to pay abuse bill
Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan has asked parishioners to donate money that could cover the church's compensation bills (Frank McGrath)
By Edel Kennedy, John Cooney and Grainne Cunningham
A SECOND bishop has raised the prospect of asking parishioners to help pay compensation and legal bills arising out of clerical child abuse.
The Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan provoked outrage among abuse victims yesterday by his appeal for parishioners to pay €60,000 a year between them for 20 years towards compensation bills.
Last night, a spokesman for Bishop of Killaloe Willie Walsh said he would consider following the controversial lead of Bishop Brennan, should it become necessary.
"Bishop Walsh would be prepared to consider such an option in the diocese in consultation with parish pastoral councils and finance committees if it became necessary," the spokesman said.
To date, the bill faced by the Diocese of Killaloe is just a fraction of that for Ferns, with the cost of compensating victims of past sexual abuse reaching €1.8m to the end of 2008.
Those costs were partly funded by €1.5m raised through the sale of six acres of land at the Bishop's Ennis residence in 2001.
Bishop Walsh -- who resigned on his 75th birthday but has yet to be replaced -- was the only bishop contacted yesterday by the Irish Independent who said he would consider asking ordinary parishioners to help foot the church's bills.
Meanwhile, abuse victims angrily lashed out at Bishop Brennan for asking parishioners to help meet compensation and legal bills.
Goldenbridge abuse victim Christine Buckley said she was "absolutely reeling" from the invitation made by Bishop Brennan for 100,000 parishioners in 80 parishes to pay €60,000 each year until 2030 to meet an outstanding debt of €1.2m. She also accused church patrons of acting "like Judas" towards victims.
Colm O'Gorman, whose public revelations of how he was a victim of the notorious paedophile priest Fr Sean Fortune led to the Ferns Inquiry into abuse in the Wexford diocese, said he would discourage people from contributing to the bishop's appeal.
"I would encourage them to get the church to look to its own assets and wealth," said Mr O'Gorman, the founder and former director of the One in Four victims' support group.
Last night, Wexford-based Pat Jackman, who was also abused by Fr Fortune, branded the bishop's appeal to parishes as "ridiculous" and accused the church of trying to guilt-trip parishioners into contributing funds.
He told the Irish Independent that the Catholic Church authorities were refusing to take responsibility for the issue, and that the church would be "bankrupt" if all abuse victims came forward with compensation claims. "Some victims just don't want to re-visit the past," he said.
Bishop Brennan disclosed that the taxpayer contributed €650,000 towards the diocese's legal costs in the Ferns Inquiry after the State agreed to award this sum, with the diocese paying almost €1.5m in legal expenses.
Dublin ~ Wednesday March 3 2010
Ferns' plea for abuse money left me shaking with rage
By Shane Dunphy
Bishop Denis Brennan of the Ferns diocese
AFTER almost two decades working in the field of child protection, it is rare that I find myself actually trembling with rage, but yesterday morning on my usual commute to work, I experienced just such a paroxysm of emotion.
The cause for this anger was a news item which informed me that Dr Denis Brennan, the Bishop of Ferns, was inviting parishioners (and any individual priests who felt so inclined) to donate money to assist the church in footing a bill, the tally for which comes to more than €10m, to meet the legal costs of defending civil cases brought against the diocese in relation to clerical sexual abuse. In other words the Roman Catholic Church in Ferns is asking the victims of its own bitter failings to pay the price for the crime -- it is a request which beggars belief.
I grew up in Ferns. When I was eight, my class in primary school was moved to the local church for the year, while new classrooms were fitted for us in the local CBS. This was the first time I would realise that all was not as it should be. Several boys in my class were picked as altar boys to serve at the 10 o'clock Mass by the local curate. At eight years old, I could simply not understand why one of the boys in particular would come back to class after each Mass in tears. I wrote it off as nerves, or maybe that he was simply not a very good altar server, and had been chided for his liturgical failings.
It was many years later, when the priest in question was prosecuted as part of the Ferns Inquiry, that I understood what I had been seeing.
Much has been written about the social implications of clerical abuse in Ireland. The reports into clerical abuse in Ferns and Dublin have shown a distressing level of complicity within the wider community. How could the police, the health service, schools and many private citizens, have sat back and allowed such atrocities to happen? The priest who abused my friends was well-known as having a fondness for his altar boys, yet no one ever confronted him about it. And in its arrogance and lack of self-awareness, the church interpreted this as tacit approval.
Yet these are different times. Survivors and their families have had years to consider what was done, and to feel the anger they are entitled to feel.
WHEN I heard about Bishop Brennan's request, the image that immediately sprang to my mind was of a small, skinny, 13-year-old boy who was a friend of mine in my first year in secondary school. I'll call him Mike, though that was not his name. One day towards the end of the year, our class was brought to a local convent for a day's retreat. That evening, we were sent back to the school -- St Peter's College -- for a Mass and a candlelight ceremony. I played the guitar, and had left my instrument in its case back in the classroom, in the old part of the school, while we were away. I was sent to fetch it for the Mass, and Mike came with me.
The corridors were all in darkness and, as we were in the class, we heard footsteps approaching. Mike froze, went pale and pulled me into a large storage cupboard. I remember vividly that he was shaking with fear, tears coursing down his pallid cheeks.
When the steps had passed, I pulled away and stumbled back out into the room. "What was that all about?" I asked him, trying not to sound annoyed, as he was visibly upset. "That's Father ____", he said. "You don't want to get caught here by him. Not in the dark." I asked Mike why not, but he just shook his head and said he could not even begin to tell me.
That priest was also prosecuted. As I write this, I still see Mike's face and feel him beside me shaking with terror. Mike was a boarder in St Peter's. How many nights did he lie awake, terrified of what might happen to him? How many letters did he write home, begging not to have to stay another awful day in a place where predators stalked the hallways?
Bishop Brennan and his comrades suggest that Mike's family might like to make a contribution to their war chest. I think it is sickening and shameful that they should even dream of such a thing. Some say that the church in Ferns may go bankrupt without help. I say let it. Perhaps going back to the days of the Mass Rocks might teach them some humility.
Shane Dunphy is a child protection expert.
Dublin ~ Wednesday March 3 2010
'It's like getting into debt and asking the priest to pay for what you'd done wrong'
GENEVIEVE CARBERY in Enniscorthy
THERE WAS shock yesterday among parishioners in Co Wexford at the request by the Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan for their help to pay compensation and legal bills resulting from clerical child sex abuse claims.
Many people in Enniscorthy said the money should come from the sale of church assets rather than the pockets of parishioners.
“It is absolutely disgusting, an insult to the people and an insult to the Catholic Church,” said Peggy Kenny.
“All the money they have and the buildings the own, Rome is the place that should pay or it,” she said, adding that it would turn people against the church.
Another regular churchgoer had not yet decided if she would give a donation towards the €60,000 a year sought by the Ferns Diocesan Committee.
“It might be more appropriate if the Vatican paid the shortfall as there are a lot of people here who are directly affected [by abuse],” said Margaret, who did not want her full name used.
The majority would be willing to give “a few extra bob” as part of their collection. However, she felt the bishops’ recent visit to Rome was “rubbing people’s noses in it”.
In contrast, a Eucharistic minister at St Aidan’s Cathedral said she would support a collection. “I would give as there is no point looking back, we need to look forward,” she said.
“We as Catholics need to be there to try and get behind the priest . . . What would happen if we had no priest?” she asked.
As with many locals, Margaret had high praise and respect for Dr Brennan, whom she said was always upfront.
“Before he was made bishop he was meeting people who were abused. I don’t think he should be held responsible for what went on before him. He is trying to deal with it the best he can and make things right,” she said.
Eilish Dempsey was very religious until the reports of abuse in the Ferns diocese became public. “The cheek of them. I am very surprised as the bishop is very well thought of. Rome and the bishops should sell off their assets to pay for it,” she said.
One man who was at the meeting on Monday at which Dr Brennan made the appeal said just one member of the public stood up to speak.“This is the biggest disaster that has ever happened. It’s absolutely crazy to ask people given the property they have and the state the town’s economy is in,” the man said, asking not to be named due to his involvement in the parish. “I’m a Mass-goer and I won’t give money to this,” he whispered, standing on the main street of the town.
Paula Davis was among many who said that the church should sell assets and not ask parishioners for money.
“It’s disgraceful to expect the parish to pay for paedophile priests. They should sell off their assets to do this,” she said. “It’s like getting into debt and asking the priest to pay for something you’d done wrong.”
David Chambers said the diocese must have “blinkers on” asking for money. “Why should parishioners have to pay?”
Trained counsellor Julie Whelan asked how this would help the victims: “How will this ever take away their life of pain and torment?”