THE bishop who was sent in to pick up the pieces in the Diocese of Ferns following the sensational resignation of Bishop Brendan Comiskey says the disgraced cleric "has a big heart".
Bishop Eamon Walsh acted as caretaker of Ferns between 2002 and 2006 following Bishop Comiskey's resignation in the wake of the BBC documentary 'Suing the Pope', which lifted the lid on Fr Sean Fortune's abuse of Colm O'Gorman and others.
He described the former Bishop of Ferns, whose alcoholism and flamboyant lifestyle are believed to have left him incapable of confronting Sean Fortune and other abusive priests, as a man with "a big heart".
"We always have to look beyond the failings that we all have and look at the bigger picture," said Bishop Walsh. He was speaking out after Bishop Comiskey broke his decade-long silence in the Irish Independent at the weekend.
Bishop Comiskey practically vanished in recent years but has insisted that he was not in hiding. "I am not hiding. I am living like an ordinary Irish citizen. I am retired," he said.
Bishop Walsh subsequently tendered his own resignation in 2009, following the publication of the Murphy Report into the mishandling of allegations of clerical sexual abuse in Dublin, but the Vatican refused to accept his resignation.
He was widely praised for his role as administrator of Ferns and for his facilitation of the investigations which resulted in the 2005 Ferns Report.
"Once you have a well-known name and you bring their story to the public every so often, it sells papers. I couldn't make my living out of that," said Bishop Walsh.
"Isn't it terribly sad that we would chase an 80-year-old man at this stage in his life – a man who has heroically overcome his difficulty with alcohol?"
However, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said of Bishop Comiskey's admission that "he didn't get things right" and his apology: "If more people had come forward earlier and admitted their mistakes the reconciliation process within the church would have been easier."
Both leading clergymen were speaking to the Irish Independent at the Irish Bishops' Drugs Initiative national conference in Dublin at the weekend.
Colm O'Gorman, the founder of One in Four, took a measured approach, commenting: "I think we have to be very careful to neither demonise nor indeed to excuse people who were responsible for appalling acts of neglect that led to the abuse of so many young people."