News archive 2005, Towards Healing

Statement of Bishop Seamus Hegarty to priests and people of the Diocese of Derry

PRESS RELEASE

27 OCTOBER 2005

STATEMENT OF BISHOP SEAMUS HEGARTY

TO PRIESTS AND PEOPLE OF THE DIOCESE OF DERRY

 
The findings of the Judge Murphy Report are devastating. My immediate thoughts
and prayers are with those whose stories of dreadful abuse have been told in
this report. These innocent people have been wounded so badly by those they
should have been able to trust. This report is a catalogue of criminal abuse
and of sacred trust betrayed.

Hopefully the publication of this report will help in some small way to begin
a process in the healing of the wounds that are carried by all victims. Painful
as it is, I welcome the publication of the report and express gratitude to
Judge Murphy and to all those who co-operated in what must have been a painful
task.

In the aftermath of the Judge Murphy Report and to allay any concerns which
may exist in the Diocese of Derry, I as Bishop wish to state that every
allegation made against priests now serving in this diocese has been investigated
with necessary procedures followed.  Our paramount concern is for the safety
and welfare of children.  An independent child care consultant has recently
carried out a review of all cases in this diocese, and the diocese will have
ongoing external review.

While preserving as far as possible the confidentiality which is due to those
who make complaints of child sexual abuse, and those who are accused of abuse,
I now give an account of the situation of priests in this diocese against
whom there are or have been allegations:  

In the past 50 years around 330 priests have served in this diocese.  Over
that period of time, there has been a number of allegations of child sexual
abuse made against priests of this diocese.  Many of these complaints are
historic, going back as far as the 1950s.  Nine priests now deceased have
had allegations made against them.  Four priests had allegations made against
them which were subsequently withdrawn. Another allegation involved mistaken
identity of the priest accused.  In three instances, the complainants would
not identify the alleged offender. For two priests, allegations although
initially presented as child sexual abuse, were determined not to be abuse.  
For one priest allegation was not substantiated.  One priest, in ministry,
stood down and was professionally assessed as giving no evidence of the
possibility of risk.  Another priest made a personal settlement with a
complainant, without admission of liability, and is not in active ministry.  
One priest is alleged to have abused outside Ireland, and is no longer a
priest in active ministry in this diocese.  There is one allegation against
a priest recently presented, which is ongoing and being investigated by
the police; this priest denies the allegation but has asked to be allowed
leave of absence from ministry and I have agreed to his request.  Two
priests have been prosecuted; one was acquitted and one pleaded guilty.  
The priest who pleaded guilty was not a priest of this diocese, although
he ministered here.  

Having met victims who have been abused and reflected on their harrowing
and horrendous experiences I cannot express often enough my heartfelt and
unreserved apology.

Might I take this opportunity to state as I have before that anyone who
has been sexually abused, by a priest or anyone else, should report the
allegation to the police.  It is worth noting that some of the allegations
of child sexual abuse, in recent times, have in fact come to the diocese
from the police.  I have cooperated and will continue to cooperate fully
with the police in their investigations into such matters.

Regretfully, we are unable to change the past. However I am determined with
my brother bishops to ensure that in the present and future what happened
in Ferns will never be able to happen again. Since 1996 guidelines are in
place to ensure that all allegations of child abuse by priests are dealt
with in a structured and professional manner that respects and cooperates
with the civil authorities.  I also welcome the positive recommendations
which are made in the Judge Murphy Report.  In recent years the importance
of good practice in child protection has been emphasised during ongoing
priestly formation and Conferences in the diocese.  

The diocese is currently putting in place a robust child protection policy
which is fully compliant with the national initiative ‘Our Children: Our
Church’
.  This puts child protection at the heart of church contact
with young people. Representatives from the diocese will, on 4 November,
begin training to ensure the effective dissemination of this policy to
all parishes in the diocese.  A Diocesan Child Protection Committee is
presently in place which will monitor good practice and ensure accountability.

I acknowledge that for those who have been abused this is coming too late.  
I also acknowledge that no system will be perfect.  However, as Bishop,
I will do everything that I can, with the help of National, Diocesan and
Parish structures, to ensure that all reported allegations of abuse are
dealt with promptly and effectively.  

This very week, the priests of the diocese were at an ongoing formation
seminar, helping to renew their commitment to serve the people of this
diocese to the best of their ability, with dedication and generosity.  
We pray for each other, priests and people of the diocese, at this time.

Our first concern must always be, as I have said, for the victims of
these horrendous crimes and their families. Let us pray for them and
let us pray for each other that we will continue to learn from the
terrible mistakes of the past so that we can face the future humbly,
openly and in truth.  

+Séamus Hegarty
Bishop of Derry

                                                                 
                                                                                                                                                                             

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