Ill-health causes Bishop Lee of Waterford and Lismore to step down

Resigning bishop pays tribute to priests, religious and lay people for support over 20 years

Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Dr William Lee confirmed in a statement today he had been diagnosed with a serious illness and under medical care since July 2011, which has impacted greatly on his health and his ministry. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Dr William Lee confirmed in a statement today he had been diagnosed with a serious illness and under medical care since July 2011, which has impacted greatly on his health and his ministry. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Dr William Lee (71) has confirmed he is stepping down from his ministry due to ill-health following the acceptance of his resignation by Pope Francis.

Bishop Lee confirmed in a statement today he had been diagnosed with a serious illness and under medical care since July 2011, which has impacted greatly on his health and his ministry. Recently he had been advised by his doctors to retire from office.

“Even though I found the time since diagnosis quite demanding, I had hoped that I would be able to continue in office and looked forward to doing so. Now, my doctors have advised otherwise,” he said in a statement.

“Accordingly, I have in the past few weeks submitted my letter of resignation as Bishop of Waterford and Lismore to Pope Francis. The Holy Father has considered my request and graciously accepted my resignation.”

A native of Newport in Co Tipperary, Bishop Lee was ordained a priest in 1966 for the Diocese of Cashel and Emly, and later served as President of St Patrick’s College in Thurles before being ordained Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in 1993.

Today, Bishop Lee said it was with “reluctance and sadness” that he had come to the decision to retire, but paid tribute to the priests, other religious and people of the diocese for their support over the past 20 years since becoming their bishop.

“It was a great privilege for me to be your bishop. I have been ministering in that capacity for just over 20 years since I was ordained bishop on 25 July 1993. It is a long time and you have been very patient with my shortcomings,” he said.

Three years ago, Bishop Lee apologised for his handling of a complaint of clerical child sex abuse shortly after his appointment as bishop, when he opted not to take a priest out of ministry after receiving a complaint that the man had sexually abused children.

Bishop Lee arranged for the priest to be seen and assessed by a clinician and, based on that assessment, placed the man in a new ministry where he continued until 1995, when Bishop Lee reviewed his decision and withdrew him from ministry.

He made contact with the complainants and told them he was reporting the matter to the gardaí. When further complainants came forward in 1996, he also notified gardaí, but neither group of complainants ever made a criminal complaint to gardaí.

“I sincerely apologise and am deeply sorry for the inadequacies of my earlier actions in this case,” said Bishop Lee in 2010, confirming the priest had been withdrawn from ministry in February 1996 and had been the subject on ongoing supervision since.

Today, Bishop Lee said his time as Bishop of Waterford and Lismore had been both fulfilling and challenging as he thanked people for their support in building community, safeguarding children, supporting the vulnerable and caring for the elderly.

“I have always felt the warmth and affection of you, the priests, religious and people of the diocese. You are a constant support to me and, as I leave office, I want you to know how deeply grateful and appreciative I am.

“I thank you from my heart for all the kindness and understanding you have shown me over the years and I am especially grateful for your concern and prayers for me in my recent illness.”