Irish News

Saturday 12 July 2014

PERSON OF THE MONTH Colm O'Gorman, who fought a long battle against clerical sex abuse

Published 08/06/2003|00:11

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ANY abuse victim who can successfully fight a highly personal battle with the Catholic Church is to be applauded for sheer strength of character. Like so many others, Colm O'Gorman had to wait until adulthood before he saw the priest who had abused him as a boy finally acknowledged as a paedophile. Justice eventually came 22 years after Father Sean Fortune first abused the W

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ANY abuse victim who can successfully fight a highly personal battle with the Catholic Church is to be applauded for sheer strength of character. Like so many others, Colm O'Gorman had to wait until adulthood before he saw the priest who had abused him as a boy finally acknowledged as a paedophile. Justice eventually came 22 years after Father Sean Fortune first abused the Wexford man.

In April, when he was awarded ?300,000 damages, Colm O'Gorman said he found himself, "in a place I could never have imagined". For the first time, the church authorities admitted they were grossly negligent in how they handled and responded to cases of clerical sexual abuse. Colm O'Gorman, the founder of the One in Four campaign, first reported the abuse he suffered at the hands of Father Fortune to the Garda in 1995. The subsequent investigation resulted in 66 charges being brought against him. It was alleged the Ferns priest had abused eight young men. This figure would later rise above 100. But in March 1999, the priest committed suicide. Many of his victims feared that with the priest's death any hope of justice would also go.

But Colm O'Gorman fought on, largely unsupported, for a further four years. Eventually he won his case and, more importantly, the apology he deserved. A statement on behalf of Bishop Eamonn Walsh said: "He acknowledges and sincerely regrets the distress, trauma and hurt caused to Colm O'Gorman by virtue of the acts of sexual abuse perpetrated on him by the late Father Sean Fortune. He further acknowledges the failure of the bishop at that time to recognise and act on the threat posed by the late Father Fortune to Colm O'Gorman." Speaking after the verdict, Colm O'Gorman said the day was hugely significant because he was able to let an enormous personal burden go. But it was also a hugely significant day for every other victim seeking compensation from the church hierarchy for clerical sexual abuse.

And it is for this reason - to honour the magnitude of his personal struggle against the might of the church - that Colm O'Gorman has been chosen as the Sunday Independent/ Irish Nationwide Building Society Person of the Month.

The Person of the Month Award is open to people from any walk of life, business, politics, sport, arts, charity work etc. Winners will be selected on the basis of their general success in their chosen field over time, or else for some particular and noteworthy recent achievement.

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