Ferns Diocese: How the Story of Sexual Abuse Unfolded

The Irish Times
March 3, 2010

1966 : The Diocese of Ferns receives a complaint of abuse against Fr Donal Collins, who is accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour towards 20 boys in a dormitory of St Peter’s College and seminary in Wexford.

It is treated by Bishop Donal Herlihy as a moral failure, and Collins is sent away for two years. He is allowed to return to the school teaching staff, becoming head of the college in 1985.

1973 : Sean Fortune (right) enters St Peter’s to pursue a vocation for the priesthood.

1976 : First allegation of sexual abuse made against Fortune by a student to a staff member of St Peter’s.

1979 : Fortune accused of abusing boy scouts. Complaint sent to Bishop Herlihy.

1980 : Dr Herlihy begins to treat sexual abuse as a psychological problem, and begins to send priests accused of abuse to England for psychiatric and psychological assessment and treatment.

1984 : Bishop Brendan Comiskey, an auxiliary bishop in Dublin, installed as Bishop of Ferns following the death of Bishop Herlihy the previous year.

1988 : In the parish of Monageer in north Wexford, then parish priest Jim Grennan is accused of molesting 10 girls preparing for confirmation. Some parents tell the gardai, and Grennan is temporarily removed, only to return on the day of the confirmation ceremony, accompanied by Bishop Comiskey. Despite a lengthy investigation by local gardai, no prosecution is ever brought.

1989 : The Diocese of Ferns, along with every other diocese in the country, takes out insurance against claims from abuse victims, following legal advice that they should.

1990 : Fr James Doyle becomes the first priest in the diocese to be convicted of child abuse, receiving an 18-month sentence for sexually molesting a boy. He goes to England after his release.

1994 : The Observer newspaper reports that Doyle is working openly with children in London, with workers and parents having no idea of his past.

Autumn 1995 : Newspaper reports begin to surface about allegations of child sexual abuse against a number of priests in the Ferns area. Local councillor Gary O’Halloran demands a State inquiry into the Monageer case and its handling by the southeastern health board and gardai.

Christmas 1995 : Colm O’Gorman, a young man originally from Wexford but now living in England, makes a complaint to the Garda that he was raped by Fortune on numerous occasions in the 1980s.

1996 : Fortune is charged with sexual abuse. Further charges are brought, and it is only then that he is removed from his ministry.

1997/1998 : Fortune takes a High Court challenge against the charges, delaying his trial by at least two years, but it fails.

March 1999: Fortune found dead in his home from a sleeping pills and alcohol overdose. Dr Comiskey cuts short a trip to the US to return to Gorey to say the funeral Mass.

March 2002 : Colm O’Gorman and three others abused by Fortune take part in a BBC2 documentary, Suing the Pope , which again questions Bishop Comiskeys response to the allegations at the time.

April 1st, 2002 : Bishop Comiskey resigns. Bishop Eamonn Walsh is installed the following month as administrator and implements a new child protection policy. Allegations of abuse emerge against other priests.

April 2002 : Following a meeting with Mr O’Gorman, then minister for health Micheal Martin announces an inquiry into the handling of the allegations of abuse in the Ferns diocese.

April 2003 : Government appoints retired Supreme Court judge Frank Murphy to head inquiry.

October 25th, 2005 : Publication of the Ferns report, which identified more than 100 allegations of child sexual abuse made between 1962 and 2002 against 21 priests operating under the aegis of the Diocese of Ferns. It identifies Bishop Comiskey’s failure to report incidents of alleged sexual abuse to authorities, and to keep alleged abusers away from children.

March 1st, 2010: Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan asks parishioners to help pay compensation and legal bills emanating from clerical child sex abuse claims in the diocese.


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