Fortune victims to demand inquiry

The Irish Times/March 28, 2002
By Chris Dooley

A public inquiry into the handling of sex abuse cases in the Ferns diocese is to be demanded by victims of Father Sean Fortune at a meeting with the Minister for Health, Mr Martin.

As pressure mounted yesterday on the Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey, to resign over the manner in which complaints about Father Fortune were handled, Mr Martin agreed to a request that he meet survivors of abuse from the diocese.

He is also to discuss the options open to the Government on the matter with both the Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, and the Attorney General, Mr McDowell.

The meeting with victims will take place "as quickly as possible", according to the Fianna Fáil Wexford TD, Mr John Browne, who discussed the issue with Mr Martin yesterday.

The Minister had not elaborated, he said, on the nature of the discussions he intended to hold with Mr O'Donoghue and Mr McDowell, but his priority was to meet victims to hear their views on how matters should proceed.

Mr. Colm O'Gorman, a victim of Father Fortune who wrote to Mr Martin this week, said he not heard anything directly, but welcomed the indication that a meeting was to take place.

They would be seeking a "public and transparent" inquiry into why action was not taken by the Church authorities following complaints against Father Fortune and a number of other abusers over a long period in the Ferns diocese.

He hoped they would now be able to pass to the State the burden of trying to establish what exactly had gone on.

"It would be nice to be able to do that, after seven years," he said.

He also welcomed the decision by RTÉ to screen the BBC Correspondent programme on the Fortune scandal next Tuesday at 10.40 p.m.

An opinion poll published by the Echo newspaper group in Wexford yesterday indicated a growing level of disquiet in the Ferns diocese over Bishop Comiskey's handling of complaints made to him about Father Fortune since 1984: 92 per cent of respondents said the bishop had not done enough to remove Father Fortune, while 62 per cent said he should resign.

Only 22 per cent believed he should not resign, and 16 per cent said they did not know.

The poll was conducted by Media Sales Ltd in Wexford town on Friday, Saturday and Monday, and 150 people were questioned.

Asked if they had confidence in Bishop Comiskey having seen the BBC programme, 77 per cent of respondents said No, with just 11 per cent replying Yes.

South East Radio has also been taking a large number of calls about the issue.

Alan McGuire, presenter/producer of the mid-morning Regional Express programme, said 95 per cent of callers were coming out against the bishop, and some were expressing extreme anger.

"We're getting people saying they don't want him to confirm their children," he said.

"The calls started the day after the BBC programme and they haven't let up," he added.

Bishop Comiskey has not commented since issuing a statement eight days ago in which he apologised to "any person in the diocese of Ferns" who had been sexually abused by a priest, and said he knew "that in responding in the past to complaints of abuse I have not always got it right."

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