Church to Pay $323,000 and Apologize in Irish Sex Abuse Case

The New York Times/April 9, 2003
By Brian Lavery

Ublin -- One of Ireland's prominent campaigners for the rights of victims of clerical sexual abuse settled a five-year-old case against the Roman Catholic diocese where he was abused more than 20 years ago for 300,000 euros ($323,000), in a deal that included a public apology and sets a precedent for how the Catholic Church here relates to abuse victims.

Colm O'Gorman, 36, was sexually abused by this country's most notorious pedophile priest, the Rev. Sean Fortune, between 1981 and 1983 in the remote coastal diocese of Ferns, in southeastern County Wexford. Father Fortune committed suicide in 1999 while facing 66 criminal charges of abusing eight boys.

Mr. O'Gorman, who runs the London-based victims' support group One In Four, sued the diocese for negligence because church authorities there knew of the priest's crimes and knowingly put Mr. O'Gorman at risk. At a news conference here today, Mr. O'Gorman said he accepted the settlement because the Church accepted blame in a formal apology that a diocesan representative read into the court record.

"That such an admission of negligence should have been heard before the High Court earlier this morning is for me a historic moment," he said. "I hope that above all else it will mark an end to the adversarial and legalistic approach adopted by bishops and church leaders to people who have experienced rape and sexual abuse perpetrated by priests."

The statement said that Bishop Eamon Walsh, the apostolic administrator of the diocese since Brendan Comiskey resigned in disgrace over the scandal a year ago, "acknowledges and sincerely regrets the distress, trauma and hurt caused to Colm O'Gorman by virtue of the acts of sexual abuse perpetrated on him." Bishop Walsh "wishes to apologize unreservedly" for the failure of Dr. Comiskey's predecessor, the late Donal Herlihy, to stop Father Fortune, it said.

Mr. O'Gorman also abandoned a case against the pope's representative in Ireland because the papal nuncio has diplomatic immunity, and Mr. O'Gorman would be liable for his legal costs.

The papal nuncio's refusal to answer questions on what Rome knew about abuse in Ireland "speaks volumes about the Vatican's continuing failures to respond effectively and meaningfully to the hurts of the Church," Mr. O'Gorman said. "It is tantamount to moral abandonment of its own flock."

County Wexford, however, has been the testing ground for how Ireland reconciles the damage of clerical sexual abuse. Two weeks ago, the Irish government launched its own investigation, chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge, into how Church and state representatives handled allegations of abuse in Ferns. The inquiry does not have the power to subpoena documents and witnesses, but the health minister, Micheal Martin, said he would grant such powers if church officials withhold information.

Mr. O'Gorman said that there was "a level of generosity" in the negotiations that led to today's apology - a generosity that he also said was long overdue - and that he was hopeful for a more conciliatory and cooperative approach by Church authorities.

"If it does happen to go to law, I think the church needs to become much less adversarial in the way that they're dealing with cases," he said in a radio interview with RTE, the Irish state broadcaster. "I think it's appropriate that they be dealt with in a more compassionate and Christian way."

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