Bishop issues statement correcting claims he made about news report

Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan said a Sunday World report he dismissed as ‘wholly incorrect’ was in fact ‘wholly factually correct’

Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan  said  the Sunday World report had actually been ‘wholly factually correct’. File photograph: Diocese of Limerick

Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan said the Sunday World report had actually been ‘wholly factually correct’. File photograph: Diocese of Limerick

 

The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore issued a statement on Friday night saying a Sunday World news report he dismissed as “wholly incorrect” last Tuesday was in fact “wholly factually correct”.

His U-turn relates to a story that Clonmel priest Canon Brendan Crowley had sent now-convicted rapist Bartholomew Prendergast to see a psychiatrist in 1984.

Prendergast was convicted last month of abusing three young girls in the 1980s when they were aged between nine and 15.

In a conversation with Fr Crowley following the court hearing, the Sunday World reported that he had denied knowing of Prendergast’s crimes and had referred him to the psychiatrist, Dr Jim Morrison, in relation to a separate matter, having been visited by Prendergast and family members.

“I knew nothing at all about him abusing children, nothing at all,” Fr Crowley is quoted as telling the newspaper.

However, in a statement last Tuesday, the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan requested the article be retracted saying the report “clearly states that Canon Crowley knew of [the] abusive behaviour. This news report is wholly incorrect and seriously impugns Canon Crowley’s good name and reputation”.

It said the priest was “subjected to the dramatic, assertive and upsetting Sunday World ‘doorstep interview’”, a “device” used by the media to “create melodramatic effect and to exploit the vulnerability of its subject”.

Bishop Cullinan also criticised “well documented” media groupthink which, he said, had “in the recent past, contributed to a catastrophic error in reporting regarding another member of the clergy in Ireland”.

This was an apparent reference to the 2011 RTÉ Prime Time Investigates “Mission to Prey” programme in which an Irish missionary priest was falsely accused of fathering a child with an underage girl.

Retraction

However, in a retraction of the statement on Friday evening, Bishop Cullinan said the Sunday World report had actually been “wholly factually correct”.

“Any possible interpretation that Father Crowley had any knowledge of [Prendergast’s] behaviour is not correct as is clear from his reported statements to that effect,” he added.

Prendergast (65) of Cruachan, Dungarvan, a former Waterford county council worker, will be sentenced next November for the sexual abuse of two sisters and a third unnamed woman over the course of 12 years.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of rape and 13 counts of indecent assault of his sister-in-law Stephanie Hickey at locations in Co Waterford and Co Tipperary on dates between 1983 and 1987. Ms Hickey was aged between 12 and 15 at the time.

Prendergast also pleaded guilty to one count of indecent assault against her sister Deirdre Fahy on a date between 1979 and 1981, while she was aged between 13 and 14. He also admitted two counts of indecent assault of a third unnamed woman between 1988 and 1991 when she was aged between nine and 12.

Bishop Cullinan came to some prominence in the aftermath of the Eighth Amendment referendum in May when he suggested that Catholics who voted Yes had committed a sin.

Such people, he said, “should talk to the priest, they should go to confession” before receiving communion.

Last October, he apologised for previous remarks in which he said the HPV vaccine was “lulling” young girls into promiscuity.

“That was an error of judgment. It was far too simplistic a way of looking at it,” he said.

Calling for a No vote in the May 2015 same-sex marriage referendum, Bishop Cullinan said “common sense alone tells us that every child should have its ‘mammy and daddy’”.