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Monday 19 March 2018

Sins of priests force bishop to live in anonymity

Child-abuse scandal that rocked his diocese 12 years ago still haunts retired cleric

Brendan Commiskey with reporter Paul Williams on Burlington Road,Dublin. Photo: Padraig O'Reilly
Brendan Commiskey with reporter Paul Williams on Burlington Road,Dublin. Photo: Padraig O'Reilly

Paul Williams Special Correspondent

THE heavy grey skies over Dublin unleashed a deluge as the tall, handsome gentleman emerged from the dental surgery on Burlington Road.

Unperturbed by the sudden violence of the downpour, he hoisted his umbrella and marched briskly down the pavement on the short journey to his home in nearby Ranelagh.

It had been at least 12 years since the former Bishop of Ferns Brendan Comiskey was seen in public, although he claims he has "been here all the time".

He was once a flamboyantly liberal, religious prelate – a man seen as having a great future in the church.

Now he has been forced into anonymity by the horrific sins of the predatory priests under his control.

Brendan Comiskey was condemned for doing nothing while at least 10 clerics, including the infamous Sean Fortune, raped and abused scores of children with impunity.

He knew what was going on but, at best, seemed helpless to act in the hierarchical world of the Catholic Church.

When Bishop Comiskey fell on his crozier and resigned in 2002 it rocked the church to its foundations and made international headlines.

And apart from a statement contained in a press release, the once media-friendly bishop, disappeared from the public eye without any further comment.

When I approached Brendan Comiskey more than a decade on from his resignation he was momentarily taken by surprise, but quickly regained his composure. He was warm and friendly.

Despite the fact that he is now 79 years old, he has the posture and demeanour of a man younger in years.

He still has the Monaghan accent he grew up with, and his eyes are bright and smiling.

I enquired as to how he was, and suggested that it has been a long time since the Irish public heard from him.

Since 2002, I remind him, he seems to have vanished into hiding.

And it is obvious that he is aware of that presumption too.

"I have been here all the time. As Colm Toibin says, 'they must be blind because I see him everyday'," he said with no hint of being defensive.

Then as we stood in the January downpour, I asked the former bishop if he would agree to an interview.

I reminded him that he had never actually explained to his flock and the wider Catholic community how it was he found himself taking the blame for one of the worst child abuse scandals in the church's history.

Didn't he have a responsibility as the Bishop of Ferns to at least try to explain?

"I am not hiding," he was anxious to reassure me again. "I am living like an ordinary Irish citizen. I am retired; retired people don't talk to the public in any other profession."

When I talk of some of the horror of what had gone on in Ferns, he agreed as if an outside witness: "Yeah, sure, I lived through it."

He said he had read the Ferns Report, which was hugely critical of his inactions, "several times".

I mentioned the subject of his past problem with alcohol as a possible reason for him losing control of the situation, but he wasn't going to let himself off the hook.

"Alcohol was not an excuse," he said with an edge to his voice.

But Bishop Comiskey stopped short of making any effort to explain his role in the sordid quagmire that was the Diocese of Ferns.

Perhaps it is that he cannot explain or excuse what went on.

Or, despite his disgrace, he is trying to protect the Vatican hierarchy that shielded church paedophiles from the light of the truth.

That appears to be a secret that Brendan Comiskey is prepared to take to the grave with him.

Irish Independent

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