Irish bishop resigns over handling of sex abuse by priest

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The Independent Online

The reputation of the Catholic Church in the Irish Republic was damaged further yesterday after a bishop was forced to resign over his handling of sex abuse allegations against a priest.

The Right Reverend Brendan Comiskey, the Bishop of Ferns, has been under pressure to step down since a BBC documentary criticised the way he dealt with the case of the late Father Sean Fortune.

Amid growing speculation on his future, the bishop announced his resignation in Wexford yesterday and apologised to "all who have been abused by priests of the diocese".

For almost a fortnight, Dr Comiskey had refused to comment on the BBC Correspondent documentary which made allegations against Father Fortune, who committed suicide in 1999. In a statement yesterday, Dr Comiskey said Father Fortune had committed "very grave wrongs and hurt many people". But despite regularly confronting the priest and removing him from ministry, Dr Comiskey said he had failed to resolve the problem.

"In endeavouring to deal with the complexity and the conflict, which always surrounded Father Fortune and already existed prior to my appointment as Bishop of Ferns in 1984, I can only assure you that I did my best. Clearly that was not good enough."

Michael Martin, the Minister for Health, will meet Father Fortune's victims to decide whether to launch an independent inquiry. Nine men are known to have approached the police about Father Fortune and ministers will also discuss the Garda's role in the affair.

Senator Avril Doyle, a former mayor of Wexford, called for a wider investigation, claiming there were "one, two or three other cases". She called for files on Father Fortune, which parishioners said were stacked "from the floor to the ceiling" in Dr Comiskey's office, to be given to an inquiry.

Of Dr Comiskey, she said: "He did an awful lot of good but this was one chapter that he handled particularly badly."

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