Monday 19 February 2018

Obituary: Bishop Dermot O'Mahony

Bishop of Dublin was haunted by public perception of his handling of sex abuse cases

Pain: Dermot O'Mahony
Pain: Dermot O'Mahony
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Bishop Dermot O'Mahony was the most senior churchman to challenge the findings of the Murphy Commission into sexual abuse among the Catholic clergy, which was highly critical of his handling of a number of serial clerical offenders in the Dublin Archdiocese.

Dr O'Mahony, who was Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin from 1975 to 1996 had retired on health grounds but was 'sanctioned' by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in the wake of the Murphy Report.

Bishop O'Mahony died on Friday, December 10 at the age of 80, and his funeral last Tuesday was told the "great pain" he suffered in the days before his death may have been a psychological reaction to the events which followed publication of the damning report on the priests and the hierarchy.

The report found that Bishop O'Mahony's "handling of complaints and suspicions of child sexual abuse was particularly bad" and went on to detail his mishandling of complaints against Fr Ivan Payne and his extraordinary decision to give a reference to the diocese of Sacramento in California for a priest who himself had admitted to sexually abusing children.

Bishop Brendan Comiskey told the Murphy Commission that because of what he described as his "nature and intelligence and kindness", Bishop O'Mahony "was often given a mandate" to speak to priests "in trouble".

The Murphy Commission report of November, 2009 said: "The Commission has established that he was aware of 13 priests from within the representative sample (and a number of others) against whom there had been allegations/suspicions by 1995."

Originally from Eniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Dermot O'Mahony was born on February 18, 1935. He studied in Clonliffe College where he was ordained a priest by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid in May 1960. He then spent four years at the Pontifical University in Rome, before returning to Dublin where he served in Clonskeagh parish. After a stint as a Professor in Clonliffe he was appointed a curate in Grange Park in Raheny, before becoming administrator in Donaghmede in l974.

He was made an Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin and Chancellor of the Archdiocese on February 13, 1975 just five days before his 40th birthday.

During the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, he was active as chairman of the Irish Bishops' Commission for Justice and Peace, and was among those who sought a compromise solution to prevent the Hunger Strikes in the Maze Prison in 1981.

Clearly attuned to the Murphy Commissions investigation, he wrote to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in early September, 2009, four weeks before the publication of its report: "I profoundly regret that any action or inaction of mine should have contributed to the suffering of even a single child. I want to apologise for any failures from the bottom of my heart."

His brother Gerry O'Mahony told the congregation in Shankill, Co Dublin last Tuesday "that statement was never made public, lending to a media perception that Dermot did not express any remorse or apology. It was something that haunted him to the very end of his life".

He was also deeply hurt when he was prevented from working in his parish, from administering Confirmation or participating in the activities of the Irish Pilgrimage Trust, which arranged children's pilgrimages to Lourdes. An appreciation by Padraig McCarthy for the Association of Catholic Priests said Dermot O'Mahony "felt very deeply the pain of being excluded following the Murphy Report from pastoral and liturgical life in the diocese he had served. Sadly, he died before the full wider context of how diocesan personnel handled allegations has become part of public consciousness".

Another Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, Eamonn Walsh, told mourners at the funeral that he was "a man of great integrity, scapegoated in a society that, at the time, ignored the principle of equity, audi alteram partem, to hear the other side".

In the months that followed publication of the Murphy Report, Bishop O'Mahony wrote to Archbishop Martin, criticising his failure to support his priests. "Unlike Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, who defended the gardaí and said 'it was a different time then,' the Archbishop did nothing to counteract the statement of the Murphy Report, widely circulated in the media, that 'the majority of clergy knew and did nothing'."

Archbishop Martin replied on December 2: "I regret - and I know that this regret is shared by many believing people in parishes in which you served - that your commitment as auxiliary bishop to the priests and people of the diocese now appears tarnished by the findings of the report and your refusal to recognise that fact."

In reply, Bishop O'Mahony said: "You were out of the diocese for 31 years and had no idea how traumatic it was for those of us who had to deal with allegations without protocols in the manner of child sex abuse."

He called on priests to challenge "the acceptance by media and current diocesan policy that a 'cover-up' took place".

However, he concluded the correspondence, published in The Irish Catholic, by promising his support for the archbishop in any way possible. Bishop O'Mahony lived for the remainder of his life in poor health in Swords, Co Dublin. He was buried in Shanganagh Cemetery on Tuesday last.

Sunday Independent

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