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Irish Bishop Accused of Protecting Priest Resigns at Vatican

Religion: Church leader is the third to step down recently in a string of sex-abuse cases.

April 07, 2002|From Times Wire Services

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II has accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop who traveled here to step down in person over allegations that he protected a pedophile priest, the Vatican announced Saturday.

Bishop Brendan Comiskey, who announced his resignation Monday, became the third Roman Catholic bishop to step down recently amid a series of sex-abuse cases rocking the church. Comiskey, 66, has apologized for not doing enough to halt the abuses perpetrated by the Rev. Sean Fortune, a priest from his diocese.

The Catholic hierarchy in Ireland said in a statement Saturday that Comiskey's successor in the southeast Irish diocese of Ferns would be Bishop Eamonn Walsh. The Vatican would not immediately confirm the appointment.

Pressure on Comiskey rose after the British Broadcasting Corp. on March 19 showed a documentary on some of Fortune's victims. Fortune committed suicide in 1999 shortly before he was to stand trial on 66 criminal counts of sexually abusing boys.

Comiskey was ordained a priest in 1961, became auxiliary bishop for Dublin in 1980, and became bishop of Ferns in 1984. Though resigning as a bishop, he was to remain a priest.

The church's leaders in Ireland had accepted Comiskey's decision, and issued a wider apology.

Walsh, in a statement, pledged to cooperate with efforts to investigate the history of sex abuse.

"In my caretaker capacity, I will cooperate fully with whatever instrument of inquiry is deemed most appropriate in our search for the truth," he said.

But residents of New Ross, in County Wexford where Fortune committed suicide, said they thought that Comiskey should not have resigned and that the Vatican should not have accepted.

"I think the church is on a bit of a low at the moment," one man told state broadcaster RTE. "I think if we got answers to those questions and get this case fully resolved, we might get back on a par that we should be on with the Catholic Church."

Two other bishops have resigned amid the church's recent series of sex-abuse cases. Archbishop Juliusz Paetz of Poznan, Poland, stepped down late last month amid accusations that he made sexual advances to young clerics. In the United States, Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell resigned in March from the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., admitting that he sexually abused a former seminarian in the 1970s.

The Irish government announced Friday that it had appointed a senior lawyer to begin preparatory work for a judicial inquiry into the alleged church cover-up of abuse in Ferns.

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