Irish Independent, October 29th 2005
DISGRACED Bishop Dr Brendan Comiskey threatened to rape an Irish Independent journalist.
The menacing threat was made in the former Bishop of Ferns' house in Wexford during an interview with Justine McCarthy.
During the run-up to the divorce referendum he said he would rape her if she wrote about him in a certain way.
He was "extremely drunk" at the time of the pre-arranged interview which took place 11 years ago.
At the time of his chilling warning he recalled how another journalist had questioned him and had written about his house and his clothes.
He then turned to Ms McCarthy and warned: "If you write that I will come up to Dublin and I will rape you."
In the days after the interview Bishop Comiskey repeatedly phoned her in an intoxicated state.
The Bishop has been practically invisible in recent years. He issued a statement when the explosive Ferns report was published.
'I wish I had written this story of Comiskey's rape threat against me 11 years ago. Maybe it could have saved a child from the horror of Ferns'
Saturday October 29th 2005, by Justine McCarthy
For the rest of that week after the bishop threatened to rape me, he phoned me in the office every day, sometimes twice a day. His morning calls were usually softer-voiced and pathetic. By the afternoon, they had grown harsher, more rambling, less coherent and more disturbing. I could measure the progress of his intoxication on the phone each day.
The more he phoned, the more I felt he was establishing a macabre bond between us. Each time I heard his voice, I felt panicky. In one morning call, he turned the tables by implying that I was the one guilty of causing him injury, or planning it. He mentioned the name of a prominent businessman in Dublin, whom I knew to be a friend of his, and said this man had warned him that I was "a dangerous journalist", not to be trusted.
Straight after that call, I contacted the businessman, wanting to know if this was true. He replied in a letter hand-delivered to the Irish Independent office the same day, denying that any such conversation had taken place and asking rhetorically how, as he had never met me, he could have formed an opinion of me.
The last time the bishop rang, he apologised. He had asked in one of his earlier calls if it was true that he had made a specific threat of violence against me and what, precisely, was that threat. Spelling out to a drunk prince of the Church on the phone that he had threatened to rape me was not only surreal, it felt like the second-worst kind of enforced intimacy. Now this last time he called, he sounded exhausted and sober. He said he could not remember saying it but, "if I did, I'm sorry".
The following morning, my bland interview with Bishop Brendan Comiskey was published in the Irish Independent, depicting him, to my shame, as a compassionate and fearless rebel in the crusty conference of bishops. I never heard from him again.
Before the second week of April 1994, the information I had about the Bishop of Ferns was scanty. I knew he was friendly with Charlie Haughey because I had included his name among regular guests at Abbeville in a feature profile I had written of the former Taoiseach.
I was aware that he was regarded as a modern, quotable bishop. I heard stories about him being carried out of a Dublin restaurant, too drunk to walk and collapsing with drink on a church altar; but I am not sure if these stories surfaced before or after my encounter with him. I remember, having re-read it in a newspaper archive this week, that he had warned in 1992 that he would sue any paper spreading unfounded sexual allegations against him.
About a year before I met him, I had arranged to interview the Newry-born healing nun, Sr Breege McKenna, at Clonliffe College. I remember being mildly surprised and, admittedly, somewhat flattered when, as she walked towards me that morning, her first words were: "Bishop Comiskey says you're a good journalist and I can trust you."
Last Wednesday, I read Mr Justice Murphy's report of the Ferns Inquiry. I wanted, in particular, to find out what had happened to the teenage girl who had allegedly been sexually interfered with by the bishop in her own home.
Like some other journalists, I have known about this incident for many years but could never write it because the girl and her family did not want the publicity. I have always felt that the story of appalling tragedy that befell that family must be told some day.
The Murphy Report records that the girl's parents complained to the South Eastern Health Board in 1990 of the bishop's behaviour towards their daughter, but it was not reported to the Garda because the girl was over 16 (even though George Birmingham, in his ground-laying Ferns inquiry, set the age ceiling for child abuse at 18) and she insisted it remain private.
The bishop, who had been drinking at the time of the reported incident, told the Murphy Inquiry he had no memory of it and denied the allegation.
When the caretaker bishop, Dr Eamonn Walsh, found out about the allegation in 2004, he reported it to Cardinal Desmond Connell, as the Metropolitan for Ferns diocese. A report was prepared, without interviewing Dr Comiskey, and sent to the Holy See. This report concluded that Bishop Comiskey had violated no law but that his inebriation needed to be addressed.
Although he agreed to step aside from active ministry after the allegation came to light in 2004, Brendan Comiskey has, a year later, been returned to full ministry by the Congregation of Bishops.
Before I reached the end of the Murphy Report, I knew what I had to do. What happened to me, a married woman enjoying the protective shield of doing my job, would scarcely register on the scale of horrors suffered by the child victims of sexual abuse in Ferns. Like other journalists, I have benefited from the courage of some of those victims who talked to me for newspaper articles about the scandal. Judge Murphy does not exaggerate in his report when he portrays the many victims who helped his inquiry as heroic.
The last thing I want to do is tell this story. I know there will be fallout for me and my family and, besides, I detest the sort of journalism that puts the journalist at the centre of the story. I wish it had happened to another journalist; somebody else who would have had to face the choice of telling the whole story and being known thereafter as "the woman the bishop threatened to rape", or continuing the silence, thereby perpetuating the cover-up.
I asked advice from 'a contact' in Ferns, whom I consider a wise friend. He replied: "Newspaper people spend all their time delving into other people's lives but they are very protective of their own lives. That's all I will say."
I knew in my heart that I had no right to hope that the woman allegedly molested by the bishop when she was a child would someday tell her story as long as I still kept mine secret . . .
The fateful meeting happened a week after Easter, the Christian festival of hope and new beginnings, in 1994. The Bishop of Ferns had claimed on his local radio station the previous Saturday that a "tiny elite in Irish society" was "working for anarchy". He said there were "about 20 people running the country . . . Basically, they are people in control of the media."
Two days later, he publicly criticised a government plan to spend
Prelate Link To Garda Probe On Abuse Of Girl (15)
Irish Independent, October 29th 2005
BISHOP Brendan Comiskey has been directly linked to a garda investigation in the child abuse scandal in Ferns.
A Co Wexford woman complained to gardai in February 2003 that the former Bishop of Ferns sexually interfered with her when she was a teenager.
But the Garda investigation of her complaint ran aground six months later, causing her mother to lodge a complaint with the Garda Complaints Board.
The girl is now a woman in her early 30s. She was advised to contact gardai by the senior counsel, George Birmingham, when he interviewed her for his preliminary Ferns Inquiry.
The complaint was lodged with the Garda Complaints Board by the girl's mother after a garda from the Sexual Assault Unit in Dublin travelled to County Wexford to take a full statement from the girl about the alleged incident.
Gardai had been concerned that the girl was delaying making her statement because a relative did not want her to press charges.
The mother complained that the garda had severely embarrassed her daughter by entering the premises where the girl worked in August 2003 to discuss the matter with her.
The Garda Complaints Board did not uphold the complaint, ruling that it did not come under the specific causes of complaint listed by law as its remit.
The girl has not pursued her complaint against Bishop Comiskey.
It is also believed she did not accept an invitation to meet the Murphy Inquiry team.
The report of the Murphy Inquiry into Ferns records that the girl's mother and father informed the South Eastern Health Board in August 1990 of the bishop's alleged "inappropriate behaviour".
It said that the Garda and the Catholic Church were not notified because the girl, who was aged over 16 by then, was adamant that they not be told.
A sibling of the girl had previously been sexually abused by a priest of the Ferns diocese.
The Murphy Report does not describe the nature of the alleged behaviour by the bishop but it is known to have occurred when Dr Comiskey visited the then 15-year-old girl's family home one night in 1990.
The allegation is that, when the bishop failed to return to the sitting room after excusing himself to use the bathroom, the girl's father went to check if he was alright and found him, not in the bathroom, but in his daughter's bedroom.
The behaviour is alleged to have involved "a kiss or kissing" by the Bishop.
Bishop Comiskey told the Murphy Inquiry he had no recollection of any such incident and he denied the allegation. He also said he was not influenced in his handling of child sexual abuse in Ferns by the existence of the original complaint.
The Apostolic Administrator of Ferns, Dr Eamonn Walsh, became aware of the allegations in early 2004, almost six months after the garda inquiry ran aground.
Dr Walsh urged the girl to make a statement to Fr Dennis Brennan, Diocesan Delegate, which she did.
Fr Brennan also interviewed Dr Comiskey and the girl's mother, her father now being deceased.
Bishop Walsh reported the matter to Dr Desmond Connell, as Metropolitan of Ferns diocese, and a report was prepared by the Chancellor of Dublin Archdiocese, Monsignor Dolan, and forwarded to the Holy See.
This report exonerated Bishop Comiskey of committing any crime.
It concluded that the fact that he had been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the alleged incident needed to be addressed.
Bishop Comiskey told the Murphy Inquiry that he had agreed to step aside from active ministry when the allegation came to light. He has since been restored to active ministry by the Congregation of Bishops.
No Place To Hide (EDITORIAL)
October 29th 2005
THERE IS some irony in the fact that Bishop Comiskey, once regarded as the best communicator among his fellow Bishops, has been in hiding for the past week as the fallout from the Ferns report has engulfed the Church.
If ever there was a time when he should have been available to answer questions, not only from interested parties but from the wider faithful who trusted him, it was in the wake of the devastating Murphy report.
That onus on Bishop Comiskey has doubled this morning. The allegations that are made against him in this paper today demand that he come forward and respond. There should be no hiding behind legal niceties. Common decency requires it.
For some time now, Bishop Comiskey has been able to take the position that he was not involved himself in the years of abuse in Ferns and did his best to deal with the situation at the time. But today's allegations, if true, tarnish him with the same culture of arrogance and unacceptable behaviour.
To say the least, the Garda handling of the matter concerning Bishop Comiskey and a young girl that we report on today, deserved a more thorough investigation. More details of this may yet emerge, but based on what we know at this stage the Garda inquiry appears to have been insensitive and ineffective. Certainly, they appear to have alienated the girl involved in the matter, who is now a woman in her early 30s.
A Church inquiry was also held and its report exonerated Bishop Comiskey of committing any crime. It concluded that the fact that he had been under the influence of alcohol at the time needed to be addressed.
Bishop Comiskey told the Murphy Inquiry that he had agreed to step aside from active ministry when the allegation came to light last year. He has since been restored to active ministry.
Maybe it is now time for him to stand aside again. At the very least it is time for him to emerge from hiding and to begin answering questions.