'Inadequate' handling of abuse case

Thu, Mar 25, 2010, 00:00

The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Dr William Lee has described as "seriously inadequate" his handling of abuse allegations against a priest in his diocese during the mid-nineties.

In a statement issued today, Dr Lee apologised for delaying for two years before reporting the priest in question to the authorities.

The bishop said he particularly regretted that he had not sought the 'immediate' withdrawal of the priest from all ministry.

Dr Lee said three people approached him in December 1993, "a few months" after his ordination as bishop.

They old him they had been sexually abused by the priest. He said he met them in 1993 and 1994. He said they described to him - ‘without the administration of an oath’ -i nstances in which they claimed they were sexually abused as children.

Dr Lee said he "satisfied" himself with regard to the supports then available to the complainants and sought professional advice to see what action he should take.

The priest in question then underwent a specialist assessment, as directed by the bishop. Dr Lee said the clinician who carried out the assesment was informed "in detail" of the circumstances described in the complaints.

A recommendation, which was confirmed in writing, was made that the priest could safely continue in ministry. On foot of this assesment, Dr Lee said the priest was appointed to a new ministry as part of "ongoing diocesan changes".

The priest was assessed for a second time in 1995 and a recommendation was again made that he could continue in ministry. He was moved to another area but it is not known if he had contact with children during this time .

In October 1995, and upon guidance emerging from the Bishops’ Advisory Committee on child sexual abuse, Dr Lee said he concluded that his handling of the case had been "seriously inadeqaute" and he reported the man to gardaí.

"I particularly regretted that I had not sought the immediate withdrawal of the priest from all ministry and that others associated with the new ministry were not informed that allegations had been made. I set about initiating a full review of the case," Dr Lee said.

The bishop said he renewed contact with the complainants whereupon he advised them of the policy with regard to reporting such complaints to gardaí. Dr Lee said he personally reported the complaints to the Garda in December 1995 but that the complainants themselves took the decision not to make a criminal complaint.

It was only upon the recommendation of a third assesment that it was determined that the priest should be removed from his ministry. The priest was removed from his ministry in February 1996 and is now subject to ongoing supervision.

Dr Lee said further complaints were received about the same priest in January 1996 and gardaí were "immediately notified". The bishop said he understood these complainants also took the decision not to make a criminal complaint.

No criminal prosecution has arisen in respect of any complaint against the priest in question.

"I sincerely apologise and am deeply sorry for the inadequacies of my earlier actions in this case," Dr Lee said. "I take this opportunity again to invite any person who may have been abused by a priest or religious to come forward to the diocese and/or to make contact with the State authorities".

The latest revelation comes a day after the resignation of the Bishop of Cloyne Dr John Magee was accepted by the Vatican. It has since emerged that gardaí spoke to the bishop in recent weeks about a complaint that he had withheld information from officers investigating allegations of child sex abuse.