Remembering Bishop Laurence Forristal

 

Sir, – As a sometime Irish Times obituarist, I am familiar with a modus operandi that mainly involves the commissioning of obituaries from writers who, while they may not have known the subject personally, are encouraged to consult those who have.

I am not sure how much of such consultation was involved in your obituary of the late Bishop Laurence Forristal, who was bishop of his native diocese for a quarter of a century (“High-flyer brought to earth by church cover-up”, October 20).

But it should be stated that whatever the situation in church and civil law with the complicated case of “Fr Cicero”, long before the explosion of clerical child abuse accusations, Bishop Forristal took on board one of the earliest and most extensive incidences, reported it to the authorities, and co-operated in the criminal investigation (involving hundreds of interviews with those affected), conviction and imprisonment of the individual involved. He did the same, comprehensively and expeditiously, in a second case, while also directing the Irish church’s early formal response to the developing situation through his chairmanship of an ad hoc committee.

In the rest of his pastoral outreach, both in Dublin (where auxiliary bishops have typically been advanced no further than appointment to provincial sees) and in Ossory, he showed a genuine concern and an informal and familiar manner that was widely respected. He was never a “high flyer” and he was always down to earth. Your headline at the very least, if not the tenor of your obituary in general, does him a grave injustice. – Yours, etc,

DENIS BERGIN,

Birr, Co Offaly.

Sir, – I was saddened to read of the death of Bishop Laurence Forristal. I was further saddened by the manner in which your obituarist wrote about him. Fr Larry, as most knew him, was as kind and gentle a man as you could meet. He was extremely well liked both as parish priest in Finglas and as bishop of Ossory. His only fault, if it can be described as such, is that he was constitutionally incapable of being unpleasant to anyone, even to a criminal priest. You might say that that made him unsuitable to be a bishop and he would have been the first to agree with you. He never wanted to be “promoted” to the hierarchy: he was happiest in his Finglas parish. No doubt his good nature was used to inveigle him where other souls, more conscious of their personal interest, demurred. But he stuck to his post to the end in spite of child abuse issues and a series of personal health issues. Incidentally, his elevation to the auxiliary bishopric of Dublin took place in St Andrew’s, Westland Row and not in the pro-cathedral, as stated. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL PHELAN,

Wexford.

Sir, – Is an obituary a description of the subject and their life, or is it an opportunity to use that life for the obituary writer to express their own views on a related topic? In the recent anonymous obituary of Bishop Forristal, the writer focused on the era of clerical abuse and indeed Bishop Forristal did have a role in this era, but does that mean that his character should be moulded by a skilled wordsmith to suit the story they wanted to tell?

Associating Larry Forristal with terms like “authoritarian triumphalism”, “archetypal cleric”, “high flyer” and with John Charles McQuaid, would indicate little knowledge of the man and his work. Certainly he did play a role in the church’s dealing with clerical abuse; the 1996 report which he chaired only had its recommendations adopted as guidelines, but it did mark a huge change in the church’s approach, and in many ways was ahead of the state’s position in 1996. The Murphy report outlined a catalogue of abuse and Bishop Forristal did indeed have questions to answer about case management but he did this openly and honestly, accepting total responsibility for his actions. Like us all, Larry Forristal was not perfect, but on balance his contribution to the church and to life was positive. Balance was not a feature of the obituary. – Yours, etc,

DERMOT FORRISTAL,

Thomastown,

Co Kilkenny.