THE disgraced former Bishop of Ferns Brendan Comiskey has broken his silence for the first time about the clerical sex abuse scandal that forced his dramatic resignation 12 years ago.
The 79-year-old, who retreated from public life following revelations that he failed to protect children from paedophile priests in his Wexford diocese, told the Irish Independent: "I did my best and it wasn't good enough and that's it."
He said he was part of the "tragic history" of the period and wasn't going to make excuses for it.
But Bishop Comiskey, a reformed alcoholic who retains the honorary title of Bishop Emeritus, claimed that an "extraordinary amount" of revelations concerning child abuse in the wider Irish society were yet to be exposed.
And he claimed that there was "no more" sexual abuse going on in the Catholic Church than among the rest of the population.
"Several surveys have proved that it was no more in the church than it was in the general population, which means that there is an extraordinary amount still to be revealed in the general population," said Bishop Comiskey when the Irish Independent approached him on a Dublin street.
Questioned about his 'disappearance' from public life, the former bishop said: "I have been here all the time ... As Colm Toibin says, 'they must be blind because I see him every day.’”
The once high-profile cleric resigned as Bishop of Ferns in 2002 in the wake of outrage sparked by the Colm O’Gorman documentary ‘Suing the Pope’, which exposed the activities of paedophile priest Fr Sean Fortune.
Bishop Comiskey agreed that the subsequent Ferns Report made shocking reading.
He revealed that he had read it “several times” but said that he did not want to “start going over it again now”.
“Yes, sure, I lived through it,” he said. But he had no desire to re-visit the past and the dramatic end to his career as one of Ireland’s leading churchmen.
“Not really. I feel exactly the same way I felt the day I resigned – deeply sorry for everything that happened. It was a mess, there is a new fellow there and they have an excellent structure in place – that’s it.
“I don’t think a retired bishop, you know, he has his day in which to do right or wrong. He does his best and his best wasn’t good enough and that’s life.”
He said that “alcohol was not an excuse” for what happened.
Three years after his resignation, Bishop Comiskey was severely criticised in the government-appointed Ferns Report on clerical abuse in his diocese.
Former Supreme Court judge Frank Murphy found that Bishop Comiskey’s investigation into the rape of children by his clergy was “an inappropriate and inadequate response”.
The report concluded that he had “failed to recognise the paramount need to protect children, as a matter of urgency, from potential abusers”.
Bishop Comiskey denied that he was now in hiding as a result of the hard-hitting report.
“I am living like an ordinary Irish citizen, I am retired; retired people don’t talk to the public in any other profession.”
He also quoted American TV psychologist ‘Dr Phil’ when he claimed that it was wrong to suggest that some victims of child abuse became abusers themselves.
He said: “I was watching Dr Phil last night and that statement was brought up and he said that is quite false and very misleading, that abused (people) can become abusers. It is something like one out of 10, that is a very common perception, but it is not accurate.”
The elderly cleric, who now hosts religious retreats around the country, declined a request for a more comprehensive interview for the benefit of the Ferns victims and his wider flock.
“I don’t have anything to say to the people of Ireland at all. I was part of a very tragic history and was quite unable to, nor do I want to, make any excuses. Just I did my best and it wasn’t good enough and that’s it.
“It wasn’t that I sort of ignored it (sexual abuse). I did my best and the next fellow came in, (Bishop) Eamon Walsh (who) did great work and (Bishop) Denis Brennan continued after him and eventually it ended up with a good structure for looking after victims.
“If I thought it would help, I would speak, (but) I don’t think it would be any help at all.
“I didn’t do it at the time and it’s no good to come along 10 years later and travel over it again… sure it’s great to be in the news again,” he said.