THE Catholic Church yesterday broke its silence on the sudden departure from Maynooth College eight years ago of a senior clergyman and former seminary President, accused of sexual misconduct.
Monsignor Miceal Ledwith retired from the post of College President in June, 1994 aged 51 but, despite numerous media enquiries, the Catholic Church and college authorities had been reluctant to discuss the circumstances of his departure.
In response to repeated questioning in recent weeks, the current President, Mgr Dermot Farrell's office yesterday issued a statement on behalf of the trustees which at the time of Mgr Ledwith's departure included both Cardinal Desmond Connell and the then all-Ireland Primate, Cardinal Cahal Daly.
Mgr Ledwith, who now lives in the US, has always strenuously denied allegations of sexual misconduct. It is understood the former theology professor has more recently been working as a guest lecturer with a new age sect on America's west coast, known as the School of Enlightenment and Ancient Wisdom.
His retirement in 1994 followed an allegation relating to sexual abuse of a minor.
He made a private settlement with the claimant, while categorically denying the allegation.
Yesterday's statement on behalf of the Trustees said that Mgr Ledwith had decided on the basis of his legal advice to make a private settlement in late 1995, without admission of liability and without "any assistance whatsoever from the Church or the College."
According to the Trustees, that settlement was subject to a confidentiality clause, which denied them access to vital evidence and which "had the effect of impeding" the process of carrying out an investigation.
According to the statement, Mgr Ledwith offered his retirement from the personal professorship in October, 1996 on the basis that he receive an appropriate pension.
The statement said another allegation was made against the former President in mid-2000, relating to a former student in the college between 1992 and 1994.
"Mgr Ledwith vehemently denied the allegation and stated that he was not in the country at the time to which it related," added the statement.
The statement from the Trustees reveals that contributions from every diocese were used to fund a capital payment of IR£77,030 to provide Mgr Ledwith with an annual index-linked pension.
It points out, too, that as a member of the St Patrick's College, Maynooth pension fund, the former President would have been entitled to benefits in accordance with the rules of the fund. Mgr Ledwith was also paid a retirement lump sum based on six months salary.
The statement said in the case of the first allegation, Mgr Ledwith's bishop made details known to both the gardai and the relevant Health Board.
It added that in the case of the second allegation, the college fully assisted the gardai in their investigation.
The statement said that the bishop in charge of the US diocese in which Mgr Ledwith planned to reside was made aware of the allegations, as was the Bishop's successor, two years ago.