Religious and Social Affairs CorrespondentTHE Catholic bishops have been accused in a new report of not taking seriously allegations of sexual harassment by the former head of Maynooth College, Mgr Micheal Ledwith, that were brought to their attention in the 1980s.
The finding is contained in the report of Senior Counsel Denis McCullough, which was commissioned by the bishops. The hierarchy has agreed to introduce new procedures to make sure such allegations are taken seriously in future.
Mr McCullough's investigation, which began three years ago, after the allegations against Mgr Ledwith first came to light, found that no allegations were conveyed directly to the bishops.
However, it says that "concerns of apparent propensities rather than accusations of actual crime or specific offences" had been communicated to a number of bishops by the then Senior Dean of Maynooth College, Fr Gerard McGinnity.
Mr McCullough was sharply critical of the "abrupt" manner in which the concerns were rejected by the relevant bishops.
The report states: "It does appear that to have rejected Fr McGinnity's concerns so completely and so abruptly without any adequate investigation may have been too precipitate although, of course, to investigate in any very full or substantial manner a generic complaint regarding a person's apparent propensities would have been difficult."
Mgr Ledwith, who nows lives in America and no longer serves as a priest, has firmly denied the allegations made against him.
However, the allegations have been investigated by the Ferns inquiry which is due to be published in the autumn. The McCullough investigation was concerned with how the allegations were dealt with by the bishops.
Mgr Ledwith left his post in Maynooth in 1994 in conditions that have never been fully explained. He entered into a private settlement with a minor, the details of which are not available.
Fr McGinnity was forced to resign from his position at the College by the bishops as a result of his allegations. He refused to cooperate with the McCullough investigation.
However, he has given evidence to the Ferns inquiry.
The head of the Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Sean Brady, said in response to the report: "We are satisfied that Fr McGinnity and those seminarians who expressed concern in the early eighties were acting in good faith. We regret any hurt felt by those involved and that the investigation in 1984 was not more thorough."