Clonfert bishop knew of at least 22 abuse cases


BACKGROUND:More victims than the two reported by the cleric got compensation from his diocese

AFTER THE review of child protection practices in Clonfert diocese was published on September 5th, The Irish Times was informed by a well-placed source that the review was wrong in one of its main findings.

It had found there had been nine child abuse allegations made in the diocese. A more accurate figure would be 22, the source indicated.

The review was conducted by the Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog, its National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC). It found that nine child abuse allegations had been made against three priests in the diocese and another who provided holiday cover there. One of the four, referred to as Priest A, who was later laicised, was convicted in the courts.

The review also found that the Bishop of Clonfert, John Kirby, had dealt “inappropriately” with the abuse allegations.

At a press conference on September 5th, Bishop Kirby acknowledged moving to other parishes two priests whom he knew had abused children. These were referred to in the review as Priest A and Priest B.

Following conversations with this newspaper’s initial source and a meeting with other, similarly well-placed sources, The Irish Times established that Priest A had admitted to Bishop Kirby that he had abused 17 children. He said that nine of his victims had been in Kiltormer parish.

In 1990, when Priest A admitted to Bishop Kirby that he had abused a boy there, he was moved to Creagh parish. He later admitted to Bishop Kirby that he abused a further five children in Creagh parish, as well as two children in Portumna and another child elsewhere in the diocese.

Priest A admitted all of this personally to Bishop Kirby and gave him the names of his 17 victims while in Arbour Hill prison, where the priest was jailed between 1994 and 1998.

A child’s mother had gone to Bishop Kirby to establish whether her son was among Priest A’s victims. Bishop Kirby sought the list of victims from Priest A. It did not include the woman’s son.

The sources also disclosed that Priest B had died recently and had been moved to another parish by Bishop Kirby in 1994 following allegations that he abused a child in Gurteen parish.

The third priest, Priest C, was on holiday relief in the diocese when, at a funeral, he abused the son of the deceased. He returned afterwards to abuse the boy again.

Priest D is understood to have abused three boys from one family in Kiltormer parish.

Combined, all four cases indicate that the number of child abuse victims in Clonfert diocese which Bishop Kirby came to be aware of was at least 22 – 13 more than indicated by the nine allegations referred to in the NBSC review.

The sources also disclosed that more than two victims received compensation from Clonfert diocese arising from cases of clerical abuse. On September 6th, Bishop Kirby told The Irish Times that two victims received compensation. The sources said money was paid to other victims for counselling, education purposes etc.

However, one particularly dysfunctional family, where the diocese was aware children had been abused by a priest, received no financial or other help.

It was also disclosed that the HSE wrote to Bishop Kirby in recent months to point out that the current Clonfert Diocese Safeguarding Policy and Procedures document did not comply with the State’s Children First guidelines.

The sources said the current Clonfert safeguarding document is a version of the original which was approved by both the NBSC and HSE last winter, but which was subsequently altered by Bishop Kirby.

The above details were outlined in an email to Martin Long, director of the Catholic Communications Office at Maynooth, on September 17th last and he was asked to seek clarification from Bishop Kirby.

Some days later he said Bishop Kirby wished to meet this reporter to discuss the questions posed, as sensitive matters were involved. This reporter made it clear that no personal details of victims would be sought, only numbers, and that the meeting with the bishop would be on the record.

It was agreed the meeting would coincide with the Irish Bishops’ Conference autumn meeting in Maynooth, on September 25th and 26th last.

However, Bishop Kirby changed his mind, and in an emailed letter sent through Mr Long, dated September 26th, he said: “I do not intend to comment any further on the specific cases which arose in the Diocese . . . All complaints and suspicions of child sexual abuse known to me are also known to the gardaí and the HSE.”

He referred to a Sunday Business Post report of September 23rd which led him “to the view that any such clarifications I give could serve to exacerbate again the hurt which my earlier remarks have caused to victims of child sexual abuse and their families”.

The Sunday Business Post reported that Bishop Kirby “did not inform gardaí when a priest admitted to him in the 1990s that he had raped a boy”. The bishop, it continued, “informed social services”.

The priest referred to in the Sunday Business Post report was Priest A.


September 5th

Interview on Galway Bay FM: “I saw it as a friendship that crossed a boundary line. I have learnt sadly since that it was a very different experience.”

At press conference in Loughrea: “I literally thought, and you can put it down as gross innocence and naivety, that if I separated the priest and the youngster that it was a friendship that crossed the boundary line ...

“I literally thought that if I separated them I would have solved the problem. I was not aware that youngster was part of a group and that there were people before him and after him.”

From his statement on publication of the NBSC review that day: “I wish to apologise for my own previous lack of understanding of the sinister and recidivist nature of the child abuser, and the lifelong damage that this destructive behaviour has on victims.

“I profoundly regret and apologise for moving the priests concerned to different parishes thereby placing others at serious risk ... Whilst no further abuse has been reported, this act was a grave mistake on my part. I operate very differently now and will continue to do so in the future.

“I can, at least, seek to assure you that the current safeguarding procedures and practices in the diocese are sufficiently robust to ensure that such abuse will not take place again.”

September 16th

Special message to the people of Clonfert:

“There is no question but that I made serious mistakes in the early to mid-1990s by moving two priests who had abused into different parishes.

“As bishop, I take full responsibility for my actions. Whilst I am not aware of any abuse allegations from the parishes to which they were moved, it is important for you to know that I operate very differently now and will continue to do so in the future.

“What I failed to appreciate sufficiently at that time was the addictive and repetitive compulsion of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, my words last week, separated from their context, came across negatively.

“I am very sorry for any anxiety or embarrassment that I may have caused to people in Clonfert or throughout the country.

“I am confident that current procedures and practices throughout the Diocese of Clonfert meet best practice for safeguarding children.”