Catholic priest accused of abusing girl, eight

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Another allegation of child abuse involving an Irish Catholic priest surfaced at the weekend. Legal actions are also pending against senior church figures, including the head of the church, Cardinal Cahal Daly, alleging negligence and dereliction of duty in not taking action in abuse cases involving priests.

The latest case concerns a Londonderry girl who was eight years old when she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a local priest in 1988. He later left the diocese and is now said to be in a monastery in Co Waterford in the Irish Republic.

The girl's family said that they had written to various senior clergy in 1991, after she had named the priest, but had received only non-committal answers. Only recently did the church made a real response. Dr Seamus Hegarty, who was installed as bishop last month, contacted them to ask for discussions on the case.

Yesterday, a church spokesman said that it would not comment on individual cases, but added that the diocese fully accepted its obligations under the civil law and the need to co-operate with the civil authorities.

The issue of paedophilia in general and wrong-doing by priests in particular is now the subject of open controversy in Ireland. The case of Fr Brendan Smyth, which helped bring down the Irish government, is inflicting on the Catholic church the worst damage it has suffered for centuries. The Irish media, apparently spurred by a highly indignant public opinion, is pursuing the question of alleged cover-ups of the sexual activities of priests by the Catholic church.

The view is widespread that the church has as yet come up with no answer to the question of why it did not pass on to the civil authorities evidence of child sex abuse by clerics.

The Fr Smyth case itself may not be over since the priest, who is serving a four-year sentence in Northern Ireland, has recently been re-interviewed by the RUC. In Londonderry, where there have been several child sex abuse cases in recent years, a number of individuals are awaiting trial for alleged involvement in what is said to have been a paedophile ring.