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Irish Lawyer to Investigate Alleged Sex Abuse by Catholic Clergy

April 05, 2002|From Associated Press

DUBLIN, Ireland — The government will appoint a lawyer to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clerics in southeastern Ireland, the health minister announced Thursday after meeting with more than a dozen men and women who reported being abused as children.

Micheal Martin made his announcement after discussing with sex-abuse victims plans for a full state inquiry into the unfolding scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. The Cabinet member said George Birmingham, one of Ireland's top lawyers, would have three months to present his findings, which in turn could lead to an expanded inquiry led by a judge.

Activists representing sex-abuse victims, standing beside Martin, said they were pleased.

"This is the best way to achieve what we all want: the full truth coming out as to why the church protected abusers for so long and why others in authority did not intervene," said Colm O'Gorman, one of several people at the meeting who said he suffered years of abuse at the hands of the Rev. Sean Fortune.

Fortune committed suicide in 1999 shortly before he was to stand trial on 66 criminal counts of molesting and raping boys over nearly two decades. His was one of several such cases to emerge in Ireland in recent years. His superior in southeastern Ireland, Bishop Brendan Comiskey, resigned this week after admitting that he had not done enough to protect children in his County Wexford diocese.

O'Gorman said he expected Birmingham to investigate Wexford sex-abuse cases involving Fortune and three other priests, including Donal Collins, a former principal of the seminary where Fortune trained. Collins served less than a year of a four-year sentence in 1999 after being convicted of committing "gross indecency" on boys.

Martin said the church's leaders would not be legally bound to answer Birmingham's questions, but he predicted that they would "want to give full cooperation."

The government is already funding four judicial tribunals into political scandals from the 1980s and '90s.

The Catholic hierarchy in Ireland offered no immediate reaction but earlier said bishops would hold an emergency conference within the next few weeks to discuss the church's policies on deterring abuse by clergy.

Also Thursday, Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick in southwestern Ireland announced that he had given to police reports of sexual abuse involving priests in his diocese.

Church leaders in this overwhelmingly Catholic country have been struggling to come to grips with sex-abuse scandals since the mid-1990s, when several cases of priests molesting children--in some cases for decades without being punished--were exposed.

In hopes of deterring class-action lawsuits, the church in January negotiated a compensation deal with the government.

Under the deal, thousands of people who were abused in church-run schools and orphanages from the 1950s onward would be eligible for hefty payments, but only if they dropped their own lawsuits. The church pledged to contribute about $110 million, mostly in property, to a government-run compensation board. The total payout is projected to run four times that.

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