FORMER Bishop of Galway Dr Michael Browne attempted to divert £20,000 from a fund for orphans to finance sending priests abroad on the missions, the Irish Independent can reveal.
The late Bishop Browne reacted furiously when challenged by a delegation of businessmen about the shortfall in the orphans' fund.
A stormy meeting at the bishop's palace at Taylor's Hill in Galway city in the late 1960s ended with Bishop Browne being given an ultimatum to replace the money or face exposure in the media. The money was subsequently fully refunded.
The controversy arose over concerns by the Sisters of Mercy who ran St Anne's Orphanage at Taylor's Hill, less than 200 yards from the bishop's residence.
Government funding of £40,000 had been granted to the orphanage, but only £20,000 appeared in the St Anne's account after the money was paid.
At the time, the Sisters of Mercy were a diocesan congregation the union of the Sisters of Mercy did not take place until the 1970s.
Bishop Browne is understood to have been technically a superior to the congregation and to have had a supervisory role with regard to matters of finance.
A discreet approach was made to a third party who sought the help of a group of Galway businessmen over what was a very delicate matter.
Bishop Browne was a powerful man who had a reputation for not taking kindly to having his authority challenged. He had earned the nickname in some quarters of ``Cross Michael''.
``The bishop was very angry and it was not the kind of thing you forget too easily, even though it happened about 30 years ago. But we had a job to do and we knew that others less fortunate than us were depending on us making our point,'' one of the businessmen said.
The money was duly returned to the orphanage account within a matter of days.
A spokesperson for the Sisters of Mercy said it was highly unlikely that any of the sisters who might have known about the controversy would be alive today. The records for the orphanage dating back to the late 1960s would be sketchy at best.
The Department of Education said it would take some time to trawl through files to see if formal records exist of details of the funding controversy.