End old boys' club, says priest who highlighted abuse in 1993


FORMER CHURCH EDITOR:A PRIEST who was removed in 1994 as editor of the Irish Bishops’ Conference-sponsored magazine Intercomafter publishing an article challenging the bishops’ handling of clerical child sex abuse has described the Murphy report as “of huge significance”.

His removal from Intercomprompted President Mary McAleese (then a university professor) to remark in 1995 on “the sheer breathtaking ineptitude” of church handling of child abuse.

Fr Kevin Hegarty, who serves at Carne, Kilmore Erris, Co Mayo,said the Murphy report “showed that church leaders placed most premium on loyalty, regardless of the truth”. More than resignations were now required, which would result “only in the similar process of appointments to ‘the old boys’ club’,” he said.

“There should be a real process of consultation with the people and priests” in order to achieve real change,” he said. “We live in a dysfunctional church, which happens when deafness becomes deadly,” he said.

In 1991 Fr Hegarty was appointed editor of Intercom, published under the aegis of the Bishops’ Commission on Communications, then chaired by Bishop Brendan Comiskey. In 1993 bishops criticised an article on women priests published in the magazine and written by Mrs McAleese.

In its December 1993 issue an article titled Twenty Questions for the Bishopschallenged their handling of clerical child sex abuse. “Will they eschew silence as the preferred legal and moral strategy in the face of future allegations?” it asked.

In March 1994 Bishop Eamonn Walsh, an auxiliary bishop in Dublin investigated by the Murphy commission, was appointed by the Bishops’ Conference to survey its members on their attitude to Intercom. In July 1994 Fr Hegarty was appointed full-time curate at Shanaghy in west Mayo. “In the circumstances I felt I had no choice but to let go of Intercom,” he said.

Commenting on these events in a January 1995 letter to this newspaper, Mrs McAleese said “what is truly depressing about this episode, though, is the contrast between the energy and determination which went into sorting out a perceived problem with the editorial tone of Intercom, and the sheer breathtaking ineptitude of church handling of matters relating to child abuse by clergy”.

She continued: “It is truly ironic that Fr Kevin Hegarty raised the issue openly in Intercom long before the Fr Brendan Smyth affair, and in so doing incurred the wrath of those so anxious now to reassure us of their clean hands and bona fides in this squalid business. Well, so be it. The script is all too familiar. Another resounding triumph for fear-filled mediocrity. Whatever happened to the Good News?”