Bishop addresses parishioners of Poulfur in St.Aidan's Church Bishop apologises for Fortune abuse

Aisling Donnelly

Published 13/06/2002 | 00:11

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The caretaker Bishop of Ferns reached out to the people of Poulfur over the weekend in a direct and unreserved apology for the sexual abuse perpetrated by former curate, Fr. Sean Fortune.

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Speaking from the pulpit of St. Aidan's Church, Bishop Eamonn Walsh apologised 'from the heart' to those who had been directly or indirectly abused by Fr. Fortune while praying for healing and urging locals to help him in 'untangling the mess'.

'What's happened here has been a tragedy,' he said, referring to the legacy of Fr. Fortune who served as a curate in Poulfur for six years. Conscious of the weight of his words and his key role in bridging the gulf of pain and hurt, Bishop Walsh described Sunday's Mass in Poulfur and the previous evening's ceremony in the Parish Church in Templetown as ones he 'longed' to say.

In a homily to the hushed congregation, the recently appointed Apostolic Administrator apologised unreservedly to parishioners.

'I unreservedly apologise to you and to all who have been directly or indirectly abused by Fr. Sean Fortune. I know that coming at this stage it is far, far too late and very inadequate, but I owe it to you from the heart,' he said.

Referring to his time as Chaplain of the Women's Prison, Bishop Walsh said his work had given him an understanding of the importance of treating people with respect and dignity.

'If we take that respect from the home to the school, we won't tolerate bullying or belittling or jeering and we won't tolerate sneering, offence or harassment. For lack of respect is the place where abuse begins,' he said.

Describing dignity for others as the foundation of Christianity, Bishop Walsh said the sexual abuse of a child was the 'greatest lack of respect' that could be perpetrated against anyone as it robbed innocence, betrayed trust, sowed guilt and destroyed self-respect. When sexual abuse was perpetrated by a priest it was a double betrayal as it could even rob a person of their religious faith.

Praying for a way of 'undoing the damage', Bishop Walsh spoke of healing for those who were sexually abused by priests.

'I seek healing for those who were abused as children and robbed of their innocence and trust. I seek healing for those families and those friends who were rightly angered, shocked and enraged and healing for the parishes which felt rightly left down and cheated. I seek healing for priests who have had their trust and their reputation sullied and contaminated by a few,' he said.

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