Ferns story: how it unfolded


Timeline of events leading to yesterday's publication of the Ferns Report

1966 The Diocese of Ferns receives its first complaint of abuse detailed in the report. Fr Donal Collins is accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour towards 20 boys in a dormitory of St Peter's College and seminary in Wexford.

It is treated by Bishop Donal Herlihy as a moral failure, and Fr Collins is sent away for two years. He is allowed to return to the school teaching staff, becoming head of the college in 1985.

1973 Seán Fortune enters St Peter's to pursue a vocation for the priesthood.

1976 First allegation of sexual abuse made against Fortune by a student to a staff member of St Peter's.

1979 Fortune accused of abusing boy scouts. Complaint sent to Bishop Herlihy.

1980 Dr Herlihy begins to treat sexual abuse as a psychological problem, and begins to send priests accused of abuse to England for psychiatric and psychological assessment and treatment.

Early 1980s: Fr Seán Fortune, then a young priest, becomes involved in a highly public row with parishioners over the control of a community hall in the Fethard-on-Sea area.

Fortune is accused of trying to bully and intimidate people, amid some local rumours about the priest's behaviour towards teenage boys.

1984 Bishop Brendan Comiskey, an auxiliary bishop in Dublin and one of the youngest members of the hierarchy at the time, is installed as Bishop of Ferns, following the death of Bishop Herlihy the previous year.

1988 In the parish of Monageer in north Wexford, the then parish priest Jim Grennan is accused of molesting 10 girls preparing for confirmation. Some parents tell the gardaí, and Grennan is temporarily removed, only to return on the day of the confirmation ceremony, accompanied by Bishop Comiskey. Despite a lengthy investigation by local gardaí, no prosecution is ever brought.

1989 The Diocese of Ferns, along with every other diocese in the country, takes out insurance against claims from abuse victims, following legal advice that they should.

1990 Fr James Doyle becomes the first priest in the diocese to be convicted of child abuse, receiving an 18-month sentence for sexually molesting a boy. He goes to England after his release.

1994 The Observer newspaper reports that Doyle is working openly with children in London, with workers and parents having no idea of his past. It emerged that Doyle was working there with the full knowledge of church authorities.

Summer 1994 A senior churchman steps down following an allegation of abuse against him by a teenage boy. Compensation is paid to the teenager who drops the charges. The churchman moves to the US.

Autumn 1995 Bishop Brendan Comiskey is called to Rome to explain public comments he made in favour of easing celibacy rules for priests. He does not return to his diocese, and no explanation is provided. It soon emerges he is being treated for alcoholism in the US. Newspaper reports begin to surface about allegations of child sexual abuse against a number of priests in the Ferns area. Local councillor Gary O'Halloran demands a State inquiry into the Monageer case and its handling by the southeastern health board and gardaí.

Christmas 1995 Colm O'Gorman, a young man originally from Wexford, is home on holidays from England, where he was living. He walks into a Wexford Garda station to make a formal complaint about Seán Fortune, and how he was raped by the priest on numerous occasions in the early 1980s.

February 1996 Dr Comiskey returns from the US and gives a press conference in Wexford, where he admits he may have made some mistakes, but never put children at risk in order to protect priests.

Denies he ever tried to block State or Garda inquiries into allegations. Following his bravura performance, the controversy dies down.

Fortune is charged this year with sexual abuse. Further charges are brought against him after other victims come forward. It is only at this stage that he is removed from his ministry.

1997 /1998 Fortune takes a High Court challenge against the charges, delaying his trial by at least two years, but it fails.

1999 There are a number of appearances by Fortune in court, and at one time he is placed in custody and refused bail. He is released in February and returns to his home in New Ross, where he has a huge security system installed.

March 1999 Fortune is found dead in his home from a sleeping pills and alcohol overdose. Dr Comiskey cuts short a trip to the US to return to Gorey to say the funeral mass.

Meanwhile, The Irish Times publishes an in-depth investigation by then health correspondent Alison O'Connor, which outlines the extent of the allegations against Fortune, and how the diocese was aware of them from the late 1970s.

March 2002 Colm O'Gorman and three other men abused by Fortune take part in a BBC2 documentary, Suing the Pope, which again brings into serious question Dr Comiskey's response to the allegations at the time. The documentary puts serious pressure on the bishop, who refuses to address the issue.

Easter Monday, April 1st, 2002 Brendan Comiskey resigns. Bishop Éamonn Walsh is installed the following month as administrator. Almost immediately he begins to implement a strong child protection policy, ensuring that priests step aside once the diocese becomes aware of allegations against them. Further serious allegations of abuse emerge against other priests, including Canon Martin Clancy, who had died by then.

April 2002 Following a meeting with Colm O'Gorman, then minister for Health Micheál Martin announces an inquiry into the handling of the allegations of abuse in the Ferns diocese. Senior counsel George Birmingham is asked to make preliminary inquiries. Following interviews with church representatives, victims, Garda and civil authorities, he recommends the establishment of a full independent inquiry.

April 2003 Government appoints retired Supreme Court judge Frank Murphy to head inquiry, which is not established on a statutory basis as all central bodies agree to co-operate with it.

September 2003 Inquiry begins into what will be interviews with more than 100 people who outline stories of abuse by clerics in the diocese.

May/June 2005  Inquiry is almost completed, and draft parts of the report are circulated to those involved for comment and observations.

October 17th, 2005 Final draft of the report is given to Minister for Health Mary Harney. It is then submitted to the Attorney General, for advice on publication.