A devastating report into one of theworld's worst clerical sex abuse scandals has found that childrenthroughout County Wexford were abused over a 40-year period while theCatholic church, the police and the Irish state failed in their duty toprotect them.
At least 21 priests were accused of more than 100 casesof rape and sexual assault against children in the diocese of Fernsfrom 1962 to 2002. The rural area of south-east Ireland is believed tohave the highest proportion of accused clergy in a Catholic dioceseanywhere in the world.
The report, headed by the retired supreme court judge Frank Murphy, isIreland's first state investigation into the Catholic church's handlingof abuse allegations against priests. It found that the church'snegligence in dealing with allegations went as far as the Vatican.
ColmO'Gorman, a victim of child rape by one priest in Wexford, told Irishstate broadcaster RTE: "The report says very clearly that the Vaticancarries a responsibility for the rape and abuse of children."
Thereport is likely to spark public anger in Ireland, where the onceall-powerful Catholic church has been hugely damaged by revelations ofabuse.
The most notorious serial rapist named in the report isFather Sean Fortune, a violent bully who blackmailed his victims intosilence. He came to his first parish, Fethard-on-Sea, in the late 1970swith a background of child sex abuse allegations while at the StPeter's College seminary in Wexford town. He was allowed to set uplocal youth groups and invite boys for overnight stays at his house. Inthe report, 25 complaints were made against him. Concerned parishionershad organised a delegation to two bishops and written to the PapalNuncio, the Pope's ambassador in Ireland, but nothing happened.
Whencomplaints were made against Fortune in 1987, the church sent him toLondon to do a communications course and seek therapy. On his return,he was made director of media outlet the National Association ofCommunity Broadcasting, where he was later accused of raping a15-year-old boy in a studio booth.
In 1999, in the first week ofa trial on 29 charges of sexual abuse against eight boys, Fortune, 45,barricaded himself into his small home in County Wexford, protected bysteel security shutters and CCTV, and committed suicide.
Yesterday'sreport found that for 20 years, Bishop Donal Herlihy, who was in chargeof the Ferns diocese, treated sexual abuse of a child as a moralproblem and did not recognise it as a serious criminal offence. Whencomplaints were made, he would penalise the priest by transferring himto a different job for a period before returning him to his oldposition. He also ordained "clearly unsuitable men into the priesthood"when he knew or ought to have known thay might abuse children.
Asecond senior clergyman, Bishop Brendan Comiskey, was said to haveconsistently failed to have priests step aside because he considered itunjust as allegations of abuse were not substantiated. He resigned inApril 2002.
Irish police were blamed for not keeping records ofinformal complaints of abuse, including an allegation that 10 girlswere sexually assaulted by a priest at the altar in the parish churchof Monageer.
The current Bishop of Ferns, Eamonn Walsh,apologised unreservedly for the horrific abuse people in the diocesehad suffered. The taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, said immediate action wouldbe taken on the "shocking" report.