Bishop was told repeatedly about priest's sex abuse

By Alison O'Connor
Irish Times
March 19, 1999

The Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey, was told a number of times in the 1980s and in 1990 that Father Sean Fortune was sexually abusing young boys. The priest, who faced 29 sexual abuse charges, committed suicide last week.

Four separate complaints were made to the bishop about the abuse, but the priest was allowed to remain in contact with young people.

The Irish Times has learned that Dr Comiskey received the first complaint shortly after his arrival in the Diocese of Ferns in 1984. It was made by the parent of a boy who had been abused by Father Fortune. The boy was a member of a Scout group in St Peter's College in Wexford in which Father Fortune was involved. His father raised the abuse with the bishop on a number of occasions.

In December 1986 a Waterford boy met Dr Comiskey and told him the story of his abuse. Two years later Mr Paul Molloy, who was then 17, made a complaint to Dr Comiskey about being sexually abused by Father Fortune in the south Wexford parish of Fethard=-on-Sea.

He was brought to All Hallows in Dublin and questioned by another priest. In 1990 the father of another boy who had been abused while the priest was in Fethard-on-Sea complained to the bishop.

Dr Comiskey, who was in the US for St Patrick's Day, cut his trip short to return for Father Fortune's funeral on Tuesday. He returned to New York, and according to a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York was a concelebrant at a St Patrick's Day Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral on Wednesday. It is believed that he returned to Ireland yesterday.

The Irish Times sent a fax to Dr Comiskey's spokeswoman yesterday afternoon detailing these complaints of sexual abuse and seeking a response. A fax detailing other questions concerning Father Fortune had previously been sent on Sunday. A reply from the bishop's spokeswoman said that yesterday's communication had brought the total number of queries from this newspaper to 17.

The spokeswoman said that the bishop would like to facilitate but that a number of points precluded her from giving "a firm promise as to when/if the bishop might respond".

The fax said the queries covered many different cases - "alleged incidents over a long period of time" - which would necessitate examining many files. The bishop's secretary was on sick leave and the bishop had an "exceptionally busy schedule, with Confirmations almost every day, coming into Holy Week ceremonies, on top of his other work".

It might also be the case, said the spokeswoman, although she was not sure, that the bishop's legal advisers "would consider it unwise to answer some of your questions while the civil action is pending".

The first complaint by the Wexford boy scout's father was made to the late Dr Donal Herlihy, Dr Comiskey's predecessor. He informed Dr Comiskey. Soon after Dr Comiskey arrived in the diocese in 1984 the father told him about Father Fortune's sexual assault of his son.

In 1986 a Waterford boy told a local priest that Father Fortune had buggered him. He then met Dr Comiskey in Waterford and relayed his story. This incident was included with the eight others in the Garda file on the case.

However, the boy was 17 when the abuse occurred and the DPP ruled he was above the age of consent. Dr Comiskey reported this incident to gardai eight years later, when they had begun to investigate Father Fortune.

The father of another young boy from Fethard-on-Sea made a complaint in 1990 to one of Father Fortune's successors in the parish. A few days later the priest told the man the bishop's office had been informed. An address of a counselling centre in Cork was offered.


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