Cloyne child protection cleric resigns

 

The priest with responsibility for ensuring child protection in the diocese of Cloyne has resigned from his post over his handling of an allegation of a clerical sex abuse.

Fr Bill Bermingham was criticised for making allegations of sexual abuse by a woman available to a priest whom she accused over abusing her as a young girl in the 1980s.

Fr Bermingham defended his role last night, saying he believed his actions in making unsigned notes of an interview with the complainant available to the accused priest were consistent with church and State guidelines in the area.

“When I furnished this record, this was not in any way connected to the Garda investigation or to a pending Garda interview with the accused priest. Indeed, I did not know at the time when the gardaí intended to interview the accused priest in connection with the complaint.”

Fr Bermingham was strongly criticised by the complainant last night for seeking to defend his handling of the matter. “I’m nearly beside myself with anger – the abuse I went through as a teenager was disgusting and appalling, but this is just the final insult,” she said. “The way I’ve been treated by the church in the way they’ve handled this makes me feel as I’ve been violated again.”

In a statement this afternoon, Archbishop Dermot Clifford, Apostolic Administrator in the Diocese of Cloyne, confirmed Fr Bermingham had resigned from his position.

“I wish to thank Fr Bermingham for the unstinting and selfless commitment which he has given to this role on behalf of the diocese during a very painful period,” Dr Clifford said. “I have been witness to the integrity of Father Bermingham’s motivation in seeking to rebuild trust with people who have been harmed by priests of the diocese and, to help in their healing. The safeguarding of children in Church ministry has been his consistent priority and concern.

He said Fr John McCarthy will act on a temporary basis in the role.

Fr Birmingham today apologised for the distress he had caused to the woman.

“It is vital that any person occupying the role of designated officer/delegate within the church should have the complete confidence of victims of child sexual abuse and of persons wishing to report abuse. This is an absolute value,” he said. “My handling of this particular case has, despite my best intentions, served to undermine that confidence.”

The woman said she had been put in touch with Fr Bermingham after she contacted the church’s helpline Faoiseamh. She agreed to meet him with her husband and another complainant at the Nano Nagle Centre in Killavullen, north Cork, in June 2009.

“This was my first time in 30 years talking about this abuse and I said explicitly at the outset that it was simply an introductory meeting and he said he was just jotting down some notes for his own use.”

She said she was astonished when a few weeks later she received a letter from Fr Bermingham, in which he included a copy of his notes and asked her to confirm with her signature they were a correct recording of her allegations.

“It completely sickened me because I made it absolutely clear to him that I was making no formal statement. I didn’t reply and he never made any contact with me about them and then he went and presented his notes as my formal statement. It’s unbelievable ”

However, she was informed last February by gardaí that Fr Bermingham had confirmed to them he had forwarded the allegation to the accused priest after they became suspicious when they interviewed the priest and found he was aware of many of the details.