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Sunday 17 December 2017

Bishops gave editor sack over articles on sex abuse

Priest editing Catholic mag was told pieces were 'bad for morale'

JIM CUSACK

A majority of Irish bishops agreed a report which effectively sacked the editor of the Catholic Church magazine, Intercom, in 1994 after the periodical raised the issue of clerical abuse.

Fr Kevin Hegarty, who last week said some of the Shell-to-Sea protesters were acting in a "fascist" manner, was moved out of his job as editor of the magazine after commissioning articles on subjects like clerical sexual abuse, women priests and compulsory celibacy. When he was appointed to the job of editor in 1991 he was regarded as one of the rising intellectual forces in the Irish Catholic Church.

He said last week that the bishops informed him that articles in the magazine were "bad for morale".

At the time Bishop Brendan Comiskey was chairman of the Bishop's Commission for Communications and, effectively, Fr Hegarty's boss. Comiskey resigned in 2002 -- the first Irish Catholic bishop ever to do so -- over his role in the handling the many complaints of sexual abuse by several priests in his Ferns Diocese.

Fr Hegarty said last week: "The efforts to cover up clerical sexual abuse were in one sense disturbing. I joined (Intercom) in June 1991 and when I began raising questions like clerical sexual abuse and questioning compulsory celibacy and the issue of women priests I began to experience questioning from various bishops."

He said he was told that an editorial committee was being set up to oversee the material published in Intercom and that the 34 bishops were being surveyed for their opinions on the magazine. "That report was in June 1994 and they said that the material was damaging or undermining morale."

Fr Hegarty was asked to put forward names for the editorial committee. "I had no problem with having an editorial committee, in fact, it could be a good thing. I was asked to suggest names and I did. None of those named by me appeared."

He was sacked by the bishops in late 1994 and moved back to his old diocese of Killala and to work as a curate the parish of Kilmore Erris. The case attracted some attention in the media at the time but was overshadowed by the political turmoil surrounding the collapse of the Fianna Fail/ Labour coalition and the resignation of Albert Reynolds.

By that time there had been a succession of scandals surrounding the handling of the case of the paedophile priest Brendan Smyth whose extradition to face charges in Northern Ireland had been delayed for almost two decades. The scandal which engulfed political life in Ireland also resulted in the resignation of the then Attorney General Harry Whelehan.

Writing recently in his weekly column for the Mayo News, Fr Hegarty described Judge Ryan's report on clerical sexual abuse as "the most disturbing document to be published since the foundation of the Irish State" and that "abuse was the system".

He wrote: "It causes us to question the quality of our Christianity and reflect on the deficiencies of our democracy. The complacent veil of unknowing has been lifted, no obfuscation or excuses are possible now.

"Sadly the truth seems to have been dragged out of the religious congregations responsible for perpetrating the abuses. According to the 2003 interim report: "In the main respondents have adopted an adversarial, defensive and legalistic approach... doing no more than complying with their statutory obligations -- and doing so reluctantly in the case of some respondents, and under protest in the case of others."

In sober prose and with cumulative detail the Ryan report reveals a dark hinterland which we have failed to acknowledge or name until now. There were over 800 known abusers in over 200 institutions during a period of 35 years.

"The adjectives used in the report are stark and compelling. Abuse was systemic, pervasive, chronic, excessive, arbitrary and endemic. Abuse was not a failure of the system. Abuse was the system."

Fr Hegarty recently spoke on the TV3 programme The Battle for the Gas Field and described some of the activities of the protesters, particularly their intimidation of workers and people who disagreed with them as being "fascist".

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