The Catholic Church in Crisis

By Irish America Staff
June / July 2002

As in the U.S., the Church in Ireland is in crisis over continuing allegations of clerical child abuse.

The scandal has taken its first scalp with the forced resignation of the Bishop of Ferns, Dr. Brendan Comiskey, for his mishandling of child abuse cases in his diocese. But there is ongoing pressure on some of the church’s most senior clergymen, particularly Cardinal Desmond Connell, to resign because of the manner in which they handled incidents in their diocese.

It appears that the hierarchy is formulating its response to the issue on the hoof, and there is increasing evidence that the church is split in its attitude to helping the civil authorities investigate allegations of abuse by clerics. The majority of lay people want the church to hand over all their files to the gardai, but within the church, there are many senior canon lawyers who believe that any information gleaned by the church through its own investigations should be kept confidential.

They say that if the church cannot give confidentiality to abused priests, it will paralyze their own investigations and will put children at risk.

Cardinal Connell has been forced to issue a statement about his handling of one case in Dublin where a priest abused a young child as she lay ill in a hospital bed.

Mrs. Marie Collins was abused in 1960 by Fr. Paul McGennis. He later admitted abusing children to the church authorities, although he did not remember her “specifically.” But the church authorities refused to confirm his admission to the gardai and then threatened to sue the victim for passing on church correspondence to the police.

Cardinal Connell admitted that the victim’s complaints about the church handling of the case had been justified and offered her his heartfelt apology.

But there was no ringing mea culpa. Instead he blamed the Monsignor handling her case for failing to cooperate fully with the gardai even though she had also been deeply hurt by his own attitude to her case.

Many priests as well as ordinary church members now believe that the Cardinal is an obstacle to the healing process and should step aside.

Just weeks ago, the Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, was forced to resign because of his failure to act against pedophile priest Fr. Sean Fortune.

Fr. Fortune had abused young boys over a period of two decades. Three of the priest’s victims have since committed suicide. ♦

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