`Let me get on with my healing and my hopes'

 

THE PURPOSE of today's press conference is two fold. First, I shall make an opening statement and, secondly, I shall take whatever questions you may wish to put to me about the various issues and allegations that have been raised in my absence. I wish to answer as many questions as possible as openly and as honestly as I can. I have always called for and worked for a more open church, and I accept this challenge.

I would, however, like to put this meeting in the broader context of my life. Although this is a very large meeting and looking at you all before me I realise that it's a pretty daunting occasion, this isn't the most important meeting for me since I have returned to the diocese.

The most important meeting for me actually was my first meeting, within the context of a faith community, with my people in St Aidan's Cathedral. The second most important was my attendance at my first AA meeting in the diocese last Saturday night. The next most important meeting is going to be my next AA meeting.

Having said that, this is a very important meeting for me in that it allows me, for the first time, to give my side of the story. It also gives me an opportunity to answer the very serious, sometimes outrageous, and even preposterous, allegations that have been made against me.

Last Sunday's papers questioned why was it taking 10 days to hold this press conference. The false impression given was that I had hired in a whole team of expensive media advisers, lawyers and accountants. The innuendo was that whilst I was being coached what to say or what not to say, the lawyers were shredding files and the accountants were massaging the books.

Nothing is further from the truth. Father Peter O'Connor here beside me is chairing his first ever press conference. The team that has been working with me is my own staff of three, my diocesan secretary, Father Tommy Brennan, my administration secretary, Theresa Gleeson, and the diocesan accountant, Liam Gaynor.

In the days leading up to this press conference, there have been 1,300 inquiries from the media. As you can see there are 100 journalists here today and that is even after we restricted the numbers. To think that our office could handle all those media queries plus reply to almost 1,000 letters I have received since I have come home, plus all the usual documentation pertaining to diocesan administration which had to be processed, without some extra assistance, is unreasonable. Therefore, I am most grateful to Barbara Wallace who kindly offered services to handle the media inquiries and make the arrangements for today. etc.

By the way, the suggestion that certain sections of the media were invited to my first Mass in St Aidan's Cathedral is totally untrue. No media people were invited. Also you may not be aware of this but collectively, all of you, the media, have written over 427,000 words about me during the last five months. To take only 10 days to read through all that was a major achievement, so apologies about taking 10 days to reply to five months of allegations. But without further delay let me give you an overview of those allegations now.

An overview of the allegations

. Let me start by saying that I have never ever obstructed any garda, health board or any other investigation into child sex abuse or sexual misconduct in the diocese of Ferns or any other diocese. I have never ever tried to sweep under the carpet any child sex abuse allegation.

. I have never refused to be interviewed by the Garda Siochana.

. I have been in communication with the gardai in relation to two complaints alleging sexual misconduct not 10 as alleged in one media report.

. I have never misused or misappropriated diocesan funds. Not a single penny of diocesan funds or any other funds, such as bequests, under my care is missing. All accounts are in order.

. I have never been in a Hazelden treatment centre in Florida or any other Hazelden centre. I never "escaped" or "did a bunk" from any treatment centre in Florida or any where else.

. My treatment in Guest House, Rochester, Minnesota, did not cost £8,000 a month. It cost the diocese not one single penny.

. Lurid and sleazy comments have been made about my holidaying in Bangkok. Not a single one of these holidays referred to were in Bangkok.

. I have never been arrested in my life. I have never been jailed in my life. I have never been "rescued" from jail by an official of any embassy or anyone else.

. I have never been deported from Thailand or any other country.

. I have never ever paid for a first class airline ticket in my whole life.

. I always intended to return to the diocese and never ever said I wasn't coming back to a people I have grown to love and among whom I have spent by far the happiest, if challenging, years of my priesthood.

A pretty horrific list of things, all of which I have been accused of, every one of which is simply tint rue. Whatever else brought me back, and I was never tempted not to come back, it was worth it all to get that much on the record. But the main reason I came back is because I believe that, like every other bishop, I have, through the ministry of the Pope, been given a mandate from Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel in this corner of God's kingdom. I intend to remain faithful to that divine mandate.

My good name and integrity are, of course, important to me in my office as bishop and I shall do all in my power to have these restored. Hope is the capacity to overcome even the most terrible moments" (but I) await with trust for truth and love to win through somehow" (M P Gallagher). The people of Ferns and, indeed, Ireland are a fair minded people.

Departure from and return to the diocese

With the full knowledge and blessing of the Holy Father I departed the diocese of Ferns last September 16th, 1995 (and incidentally I came back to Ferns on February 16th, 1996, with the blessing of the same Holy Father). I did so to seek treatment for my alcoholism. To all, I owe a heartfelt apology for the suddenness and lack of communication on the occasion of my departure. I acknowledge that this caused considerable hurt, confusion and anger among priests and people, and I sincerely apologise for this. But apart altogether from the insistence of the doctor that I go, and go immediately, quite frankly, I was not able to come straight out and state publicly that I was going to seek treatment for alcoholism. I have come to learn through personal experience since then of the very powerful feelings of shame, guilt and denial which are part of the baggage of this disease. I learned the hard way that stating the truth about one's condition can alone make one free.

It is not true to say that other factors or issues influenced my departure or the timing of that departure. Certainly my difference of opinion with Cardinal Daly played no part in it. Nor was there any pressure from my religious community or the Irish bishops, individually or collectively to keep me out of Ireland until the divorce referendum was completed.

Suggestions that I made a great number of, and more dramatic, changes in clerical appointments than in previous years is factually incorrect. The innuendo here that these were made in a hurry is also without foundation. Consultations had been taking place since Easter and appointments were well known to practically every one of the priests concerned weeks, and in some cases months in advance.

The statement that Mgr Breen, the vicar general, had to come back from retirement is factually incorrect. Mgr Breen retired as parish priest only he had not retired, and is still not retired from the post of vicar general.

My impending visit to Rome had nothing to do with my departure as was made clear by the statement of the then Apostolic Nuncio.

I also sincerely regret the confusion caused by my announcing two return dates and missing both these deadlines. This was caused by a combination of my great desire to return home as soon as possible which any of you who have been in hospital will understand and an equally strong insistence on the part of those who cared for me so well in treatment that I return only when I was ready.

Another factor, incidentally, in making my decision to go to the US was a communication to each diocese in Ireland some years ago from Guest House which offered a place free of charge for one cleric from each diocese. Accommodation was provided free of charge. Medical expenses outside the centre cost me something in the region of £2,500, which I paid out of my own personal income. The suggestion that my treatment was costing the diocese £8,000 a month was as cruel and hurtful as it was untrue. My treatment and medical expenses cost the diocese of Ferns not one single penny.

Diocesan finances

These and similar allegations have painted a picture of my having a lavish lifestyle or, worse still, that I have been dipping in and out of diocesan and/or parish funds. This is a lie Every single penny of diocesan funds can be accounted for. In fact, the very pleasant news I have to deliver is that where people may have had queries about funds, the funds are in a much healthier state than I think even people would have wished for.

Reference has been made to parties" in the Bishop's House.

There have only been two functions added to the usual round of yearly dinners for the priests of the town and the retired priests the Wexford Opera Festival and the reception for the Wexford Mayor and Corporation on the occasion of the Annual Peace Mass on New Year's Day.

In 1988 the Festival Council asked the bishop, in his role as patron of the festival, to host a pre first night meal for the "opener", other first night guests and a few of the voluntary workers. He agreed to do this even when, as happened on some occasions, his work took him away and he was not present himself. The "party", which never exceeded 25 people, arrived at 6.00 p.m. and departed at 7.15 pm for the opening ceremony. This could not be described as one of the social highlights/engagements of the festival. And by the way, the bishop did not, and does not, have a wine cellar.

There are financial accounts the Central Fund, the Diocesan Investment Fund and my own personal account. There is a fourth entity which is not a fund at all, but a trust.

I wish to repeat all funds are in order.

1. CENTRAL FUND ACCOUNT

Every single penny of the money contributed by the faithful to the diocese is used exclusively for the support of the church at diocesan, national and international (Rome) level. It is monitored, controlled and managed by a Diocesan Finance Council. Certified accounts for this fund are made available annually for display in church porches. If it isn't, there, this office will send anyone a copy if so requested. A copy of the 1994 accounts is attached to this statement. The 1995 accounts will be available shortly. None of this money is, or can be, taken out and used for any other purpose.

2. DIOCESAN INVESTMENT FUND

This is made up of bequests, pension funds and such money as parishes may wish to invest, such as proceeds of fund raising for church improvements or building.

This fund is independently and professionally managed by BCP Fund Managers, Dublin. Each investing parish, etc, receives an annual statement of their account. The last statement to parishes, etc, investing was issued in September 1995 for the year ended June 30th, 1995.

Under the previous fund managers, a portion of the investments was designated as the St Ibar Fund. This was subsequently reintegrated into the main investment portfolio.

3. PERSONAL ACCOUNT

Like all priests in the diocese I have my own personal bank account. I receive a gross income of approximately £20,000 per annum as parish priest of Enniscorthy and Wexford. I have no income as a bishop. From this money I pay for my car, vacation, mortgage, etc. As with any other priest this may be augmented by personal gifts from family and friends at home or abroad.

4. ST AIDAN'S TRUST

St Aidan's Trust is NOT a fund.

The trust does not retain, distribute, or accumulate monies. It is a simply recognised and approved vehicle for registering ownership of properties. St Aidan's Diocesan Trust is a trust company established to hold diocesan and parochial property. It is my belief that all dioceses have a similar trust.

For example, if a parish bought a community hall, the title would be legally registered with the trust. The trust would therefore be the legal owner but the parish would be the beneficial owner

This common practice avoids changing title every time a parish priest dies and avoids unnecessary costs, applications 19 charity commissioners to appoint trustees, etc.

5. APARTMENT

There is no retirement home for priests in the diocese of Ferns. Since retirement is compulsory at 75 years of age, all clerics are encouraged to provide accommodation for their retirement. Currently, a significant number of priests have purchased homes for their retirement. My predecessor, Bishop Donal Herlihy, had made a similar arrangement.

In 1988, I initiated the purchase of an apartment at No. 2 Donnybrook Green, Greenfield Park, Dublin 4, to provide accommodation for me on my frequent visits to Dublin while carrying out my duties as bishop and also as a home for me on my retirement. The property was purchased by me personally at a total cost of £86,383, including stamp duty and legal fees. This was financed from personal accumulated savings, but principally from bank borrowings.

When I purchased the property in 1988 it was my intention to leave this property to the diocese on my death. I put the property in the name of the Diocese of Ferns St Aidan's Diocesan Trust so that on my death the property would automatically pass to the diocese without further formality or expense to either the diocese or my estate. But be, clear on this, from day one until when I sold the property in 1995, I was at all times the beneficial owner of this property.

In 1993 I reviewed my will and financial affairs. I decided to replace my bank borrowings with a building society loan. At the same time I decided that in future years I might need, or wish, to sell the property and I therefore instructed the diocesan solicitors to transfer the property from the name of the trust to my name personally. I spoke with the diocesan solicitor at the time.

I found meeting the repayments difficult and decided to dispose of the apartment. I placed the property on the market and concluded its sale in 1995 for a consideration of £90,000. The building society loan was discharged in full (£62,583) from the proceeds of the sale.

The question of an independent valuation or the payment of rent to the diocese did not arise as the property was financed entirely from my own resources and was beneficially owned by me at all times.

The most cursory glance at the records of the St Aidan's Diocesan Trust, which are a matter of public record, would show that the trust is merely a vehicle for vesting diocesan property. It is mischievous and malicious to state, or even to imply, that any monies collected from the faithful was used to finance this apartment.

6. HOLIDAYS

Travel has been my only hobby or leisure activity. I love Thailand, its culture, its climate and people. Nevertheless, this may still be considered by some people an extravagance on my part. To say, however, that I was arrested and I was locked up, and other salacious types of innuendo, is blatantly untrue, hurtful and defamatory in the extreme.

I holidayed in Thailand and not in Bangkok. I passed through Bangkok. To say that I holidayed in Bangkok is the same as saying that a person travelling through London to holiday in Brighton was holidaying in Soho! In the last four years, I have holidayed three times, not six times as wildly reported in at least one media report. I stayed at the Royal Cliff Hotel resort, which is a three hour drive from Bangkok, a hotel complex located in its own grounds and careful to describe its location as East Coast Siam and not Pattaya, which is near, and certainly not Bangkok

I have never, ever purchased a first class air ticket. I have often flown first class as a result of an upgrade, courtesy of the airline or travel company. One of the prices I pay for this courtesy is perhaps the reputation that I am a high flyer!

It is true that my carrier bag was stolen on my arrival at Bangkok airport on January 3rd 1994 on flight No. TG 911. My passport, wallet, etc. were reported by me as stolen. I arrived on that flight having travelled first class as a result of a two for one economy class promotion by Thai Airlines, which in my case was replaced by an upgrade.

I believe that a person, or persons, falsely representing himself as the Bishop of Ferns sought and received information from Royal Thai Airlines on the basis that I wanted "to fill in tax returns". The air miles actually travelled do not bear any resemblance to the mileage points awarded. For instance, 22,300 miles actually travelled shows 67,700 bonus mile points. The bonus points were used to suggest that it was all actual air travel miles, thereby using misleading information as their base, to achieve results which were meant to mislead rather than inform.

7. CMT

Not one penny of diocesan funds was invested in local radio or the studio facility at St Peter's College.

In 1989, for a variety of pastoral and community reasons, the Ferns diocese became actively involved in local radio. Agreement was reached to establish the Christian Media Trust (CMT) made up of the Catholic Church, Church of Ireland, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches.

A fund raising committee was set up by Bishop Comiskey in the United States. Its honorary chairmen are US Congressman Thomas J Manton and Mr William J Flynn, the latter well known as a key adviser to President Clinton in his peacemaking initiatives in Northern Ireland. The names of the officials and members of this committee, 54 people in all, are known to Bishop Noel Willoughby and Mr Peter Kirwan, diocesan solicitor.

The work of this committee has resulted in making available loan facilities of £125,000, interest free, until the year 2000. Should CMT not be able to repay that interest free loan by that date, the fund raising committee will review the matter. On legal advice, a limited company (Lakbury Ltd), beneficially owned by the diocese, was farmed. The loan was advanced to Lakbury Ltd to progress the project in two ways (a) The construction and equipment of a radio studio facility located at St Peter's College (a diocesan college) at a cost of £50,000.

(b)The purchase of a 25 per cent share holding in the operating company of South East Radio at a cost of £75,000.

This was not a commercial rather an altruistic aspiration which will prove an invaluable asset to the diocese.

I remain an enthusiastic supporter of local and community broadcasting.

8. TREATMENT AT CLINIC

I was not charged for my stay at the treatment centre. Wild, irresponsible statements that my treatment was costing over £8,000 per month is another example of misinformation.

The suggestion that I was not satisfied with any treatment centre in Ireland displays a lack of understanding in fact, a total ignorance of the centrality of confidentiality in the treatment of alcoholism. I needed privacy, and I was aware that my fellow patients needed privacy. The last thing a patient in such a treatment centre needs is a journalist downstairs.

The nature of the treatment I undertook addressed the difficulties of alcoholism in the life of a priest/bishop.

9. SALE OF LAND

In my absence, a number of queries were raised in the media regarding sale of lands and the use of the proceeds. The date" hereunder regarding this was previously made available and wash published by at least two newspapers in April 1993.

Implications that funds were, not accounted for can, at best be regarded as mischievous and at worst, malicious.

(a)St Peter's College lands at Summerhill

Sold in two lots in 1989 after" costs, realised £252,290. This was invested in accordance with the original donor's wishes for education of seminarians.

(b)St Mary's House, Summerhill

Sold in 1989. After costs, realised £77,402. This money was received by the diocese and was used to fund day to day expenditure, including a grant of £5,000 to FDYS, former occupants of the building.

(c)Part of "Bull Felt," land at Summerhill

Sold in 1990. After costs, realised £106,183, which was paid to the diocese and was used to fund the accumulated deficits which arose mainly when weekly envelope contributions fell short of the cost of running the diocese.

10. BEQUESTS

Media articles suggested that there were questions to be answered concerning three bequests in the diocese.

Gorey

This matter has nothing to do with the bishop or the diocese and was handled entirely by the Gorey parish.

A phone call by any journalist to Canon Gahan would have clarified this information.

Coolfancy

Under the terms of the will of Elizabeth Mooney, deceased, the stipulation was that the portion left to the parish was to be used

(a)To clear the debt on the church.

(b)To be used at the discretion of the Bishop of Ferns for work on the church in Coolfancy (not any building other than the church).

A major renovation of the Coolfancy church was authorised and completed in 1994-1995, funded from the bequest. The Coolfancy Parish Committee had fall knowledge of all transactions and acknowledge both publicly and in writing to the bishop their satisfaction at the facilities provided from the fund. The balance of the fund remains invested for further use.

Templetown

Under the terms of the will of Alice Coone the residue of her estate passed to the Bishop of Ferns or his successor to be used at his sole discretion for the purpose of the upkeep of Templetown church.

The administration of this estate by the executrix was long and complicated due to probate and other legal matters. To date, the proceeds have been paid into the "Temmpletown Account" in the Diocesan Investment Fund. A full statement of the account has been furnished to the parish priest and he has informed the parishioners of this.

Child sex abuse

I have no problem admitting mistakes but I want to say at the outset that there has never been a single case of child abuse in this diocese which has been brought to my attention which I have failed to act upon. I never ignored an accusation. What I did may be subject to criticism. In due course you may judge it was inadequate. I, would claim myself that some of it was good in a time in which we were all looking for advice. Some of it was inadequate but each case will, and I am sure in the years to come, be judged on its own merits.

The greatest single mistake I made was my failure to go immediately to those who were hurt and suffering. In later cases I did this, but not soon enough. In those later cases I experienced the pain and sufferings not only of the abused, I did not always make provision for assistance to the parents and family. Sometimes the abused child made progress but the parents, especially the mother, were left to bear their pain unaided. To these I express my profound apology. If it is not too late, I would welcome the opportunity to meet any and all of them. I hope they will find it in their hearts to forgive me.

The cases which were handled best were when the Garda authorities, the health board, and I worked in co operation. Some of the reports came to me at a time when people would come in and say, "I don't want this to go beyond this room or even, more seriously, when they disclosed the matter in the course of the sacrament of confession.

It took all of us a long time to arrive at today's guidelines that, yes, we should report the matter to the Garda and that we should tell in advance the person confiding such information to us, no, we can't give an assurance any longer of confidentiality.

Other cases, for example, came forward and accusations were made against a priest of the diocese now dead. When I tried to pursue this indeed, in one instance, offering to fly to America to meet the person making the accusation my letter was never replied to. In this instance the gardai had knowledge of the case. The accused is now dead.

In other cases the information came to me second hand or third hand. The name of the person was not revealed but in at least two instances I provided financial assistance for these people so that they could get treatment. I still don't know who they are.

There was another case this is also known to the gardai in which a person called me late one night to make certain accusation against a priest. He asked me to put an advertisement in the Independent telling him where would be at 11 o'clock on the following Tuesday night. I placed the advertisement, he called me but he would not give me his name. I begged him to come to meet me, or to go to the gardai, or to go a doctor for treatment and that I would pay it through the doctor without his ever being named. He did not come forward. He, wrote a letter making the accusations. He did not put his name to it. But thank God after a number of years this person went directly to the gardai. He also spoke on a number of occasions with my vicar general. We helped this young man with funding to seek counselling and psychiatric help.

In another instance, I reported to the gardai, to the health authorities and when they went to pursue the investigation, the people concerned refused to pursue the matter.

I know you will have many questions about a specific case which has received widespread attention and I shall deal with that in the question and answer section of this conference.

In conclusion, I have returned to the diocese in good health, feeling refreshed, reinvigorated and spiritually renewed, and very much looking forward to the new era in my ministry. I have been greatly humbled by my experience, more modest in my own expectations. However painful, I intend to stay connected with my brokenness, encouraged by Christ's words to St Paul, who cried out to Christ to be delivered from his brokenness. Christ told him that he had enough grace to be going on with, and that, besides, God's power is made all the more evident when it comes through broken vessels.

It is in this spirit that I take up again my ministry among the people of God in the diocese of Ferns. It is as a "wounded healer" that I return, limping into the dawn like Jacob, after a night of wrestling with God's angel and my own demon, as much or more in need of the people's support as they are of mine. A conversion which allowed me to see myself as sick must find a way for me to touch and be touched by other people who have come to terms with their own brokenness.

I have discovered more love and a greater sense of belonging in grimy Minnesota basements at AA meetings more than I have in more elegant places of worship and the houses of priests and bishops. I shall continue to reach out to help and be helped by others. The people of this diocese have already helped and healed me quite wonderfully since I have returned.

I would ask you in the media to leave me be, to let me get on with my healing and my hopes. I ask you especially not to intrude upon the confirmation children and their parents.

Thank you!