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Bishop Brendan Comiskey and False Allegations of Child Abuse [1995]

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I think that (in chronological order) this is the THIRD false sexual allegation directed against an Irish Bishop. There was the (anonymous) "Bishop and the Paedophile Ring" article in the UK Guardian in April 1994. There was Pat Rabbitte's claim in the Dail in November 1994 that he was aware of a document that would rock the State to its foundations. This seems to have been a non-existent letter from Cardinal Cathal Daly to the Attorney General requesting a delay in the extradition of Father Brendan Smyth. The allegations against Bishop Comiskey began in September 1995.

All of the above appear to have been omitted from the history books.


Rory Connor
12 October 2006

Extract from "This Great Little Nation" by Gene Kerrigan and Pat Brennan
On Thursday, 14 September 1995 [Bishop Comiskey] asked the Vatican for permission to take sabbatical leave from his duties. A speedy two hours later the request was granted. By the weekend the word was out: Bishop Comiskey had left the country. On Monday, 18 September he released a pastoral letter informing the diocese of his'decision to take a three month sabbatical in the USA'. It was he said, the official policy of his diocese for a priest to take a three-month sabbatical every ten years. Suddenly the bishop was gone and the vacuum he left behind quickly filled with enough rumours to keep journalists busy in the coming months.It didn't take long for the bishop, through his spokesman, to own up and admit that his sabbatical was taking place in a clinic for treating alcoholism. As it turned out, many in the media already knew about Dr Comiskey's drink problem. They just hadn't written about it. Anyway there were better stories to chase, some real, some fanciful. Luxury holidays on Bangkok, and by the way do you know what Bangkok's famous for? Then there was the incident at the airport there. Was a boozy bishop really detained with no passport? And what about the apartment in Donnybrook, bought by the Ferns diocese for £80,000 at the bishop's behest and later sold on to the bishop in his personal capacity? More worrying were reports that Bishop Comiskey had failed to deal effectively with reports of sex abuse by priests of the diocese.

In the absence of the man himself there was no satisfactory answer to these allegations. The full story would have to await his return, first promised on Christmas Eve 1995, finally realised at the end of February 1996. Bishop Comiskey's homecoming press conference opened with a long statement and then a question and answer session with about 100 journalists. He rebutted much of what had been printed in his absence. He had three holidays in a perfectly respectable resort in Thailand, not six and not in Bangkok. When he travelled first class it was because of a courtesy upgrade. He was never arrested in the airport, but yes he lost his passport. All the finances in the diocese were in order and the Donnybrook apartment was, in the first instance, bought by him, with his own money. His treatment in America did not cost the diocese a penny. As for the child abuse scandals: he'd followed the best advice at the time, although with hindsight he saw that he could have done better.

It was a good performance and deflated some of the wilder stories that had circulated in the previous few months. But the child abuse remained, most especially in relation to the allegations surrounding the Monageer priest Fr Jim Grennan and Fr Sean Fortune......."


The above summary fails to do justice to the vileness of the allegations made against Bishop Comiskey while he was being treated for alcoholism. In addition to accusations of embezzlement of diocesan funds and sex holidays in Bangkok etc there was a deliberate suggestion that the bishop was running away from charges of child abuse that had been made against himself.

Take the following from a sneering article by Declan Lynch in the Sunday Independent on 8 October 1995. It is headed "Gaybo Speaks and the Catholic Faithful Tremble":

"I personally would rate myself a friend and admirer of Brendan Comiskey [said Gay Byrne on his radio programme], and indeed I was looking for him on the telephone recently, and he didn't make contact with me which would have been kind of unusual, a little bit unusual. "So much so that I don't believe now that Brendan Comiskey has gone to America because of stress, nor do I believe he's gone because of alcohol, nor do I believe he's gone because of his alleged protection of a priest who's up on charges. I think there is something other. I haven't the faintest idea of what it is, but I think there is something else, and I think it is something dreadful, and I.m almost afraid of what it might be. That's my personal reaction."

A second article in the same paper commented that "although the remarks appeared to be 'off the cuff' it is known that Gay scripts his shows with extreme care and attention."

So what was Gay Byrne suggesting? When Father Sean Fortune committed suicide he left a note claiming that he had been sexually assaulted by Bishop Comiskey! Is that what Gay had in mind?

Sean Fortune always denied to Bishop Comiskey that he had done anything wrong. The Bishop was only too well aware that the media had published obscene lies about himself. Is it any wonder that his handling of the allegations against Father Fortune was less than perfect?

It is about time that Gay Byrne explained what he meant by his comments in 1995. He and his lying colleagues bear a great deal of responsibility for the child abuse scandal in Ferns.

Rory Connor
October 2006


The following is an extract from an article by Bruce Arnold in the Irish Independent 4 years later on 15 May 1999, regarding Gay Byrne who was then retiring as presenter of the long-running Late, Late Show:

Like a well-written and well-presented column in a mass-circulation tabloid newspaper, Gay Byrne undoubtedly made a major contribution to the moral and social change implicit in what television was doing overall. He first challenged the Church and particularly its bishops to admit, by coming on his shows, that they existed. Then he demonstrated that they were more or less human, like the rest of us. Then he showed us that they were fallible to the point of being in frequent breach of the moral code which it was their very existence to interpret and uphold. And in a sense the rest is history. Their copes and mitres, their grand cathedrals and weighty expositions on moral behaviour, had no chance against the revelation that they drank, slept with women, fathered illegitimate children, concealed sexual abuse within their dioceses, maybe even indulged in it themselves, allowed criminally cruel institutions to operate without the State's control, and at heart had amazingly limited understanding of the trials and tribulations of ordinary members of the christian family, whose welfare they should also have been protecting.

Bishops Demand An Apology for `Independent' Article
Irish Times, Aug 12, 1999 by Patsy MGarry

Four Catholic bishops have sent solicitors' letters to the Irish Independent threatening legal action following an article by columnist Bruce Arnold in May. They are understood to be demanding a retraction of comments made in the article and an apology.

The letters were issued by Arthur O'Hagan solicitors, Dublin, on behalf of the Bishop of Clogher, Dr Joseph Duffy; the Bishop of Meath, Dr Michael Smith; the Bishop of Kerry, Dr Bill Murphy, and the Bishop of Elphin, Dr Christopher Jones.

The Catholic bishops spokesman, Father Martin Clarke, confirmed that letters had been sent to the newspaper but would not comment further. Neither Mr Arnold nor the Irish Independent editor, Mr Vincent Doyle, would comment. A spokesman for Arthur O'Hagan solicitors confirmed that letters had been sent last Thursday.

It is understood the bishops' actions followed a decision at their summer conference in Maynooth on June 7th-9th and is in the form of a class action.

The four bishops who have sent solicitors' letters were selected as representative of the island's four provinces.

In their discussions last June it is understood considerable grievance was expressed again by bishops at the church's treatment by sections of the media. It was decided the time had come to take a stand.

The delay in sending the letters is believed to have been due to the bishops' visit to Rome at the end of June and subsequent legal consultations. Their decision to take this course of action suggests a major shift in church strategy.

Writing in Link-Up magazine in June, the communications director of the Dublin archdiocese, Father John Dardis, proposed the church should at times adopt a stance of "robust defence" when dealing with "the challenges we face".

He accused the RTE States of Fear series of being "really only interested in one side of the story" and said its advance marketing "prevented a balanced discussion from taking place".