Email Us My Blog


Added to on October 15, 2006

Veronica's Guerin's article on how she allegedly tracked down Bishop Comiskey to the clinic in the USA where he was being treated for alcoholism, caused wide-spread revulsion at the time. (Of course it was not yet clear that Guerin's article was a fake). The following letters published in the Sunday Independent on 29 October 1995 sum up the mood:

Sir - I cannot but help feel that if the roles were reversed and it was Veronica in that clinic and a rival newspaper exposed her whereabouts, you would react with total disgust. And you would be right!
Nodlaig Nathan, Tivoli, Cork

Sir - This insensitive and boorish invasion of this individual's personal privacy reduces your status to the lowest of the British gutter press.
Dr J. A. Sullivan, Bishopstown, Co Cork

It was a more innocent age! Our mainstream media have long since descended to the level of the British gutter press. For example all of our main newspapers have published false allegations of child murder against the Christian Brothers; many of these claims relate to times when no boy died of any cause! (I call these "Murder of the Undead" allegations).

Even in 1995 however there were Irish "mainstream" journalists who were already on the level of the gutter press.

Conor Cruise O'Brien not only believed every word of Veronica Guerin's story. He believed she was perfectly justified in what she claimed to have done.

"Veronica Guerin's credibility, on the other hand is very high and rightly so. The panelists on Questions and Answers questioned Veronica's ethics but they all believed her story, which is indeed so circumstantial as to leave its truth in no doubt............

"If someone I was fond of (!!!) had gone missing, I don't think I would take much comfort from being told that the missing person was "in North America" If anything, I would feel worse, as a result of contemplating the desolate immensity of such an address".

The Cruiser actually went a great deal further than that. His article in the Sunday Independent on 29/10/1995 is headed "That Bishop Comiskey is kept in isolation, and any reporter seeking him out is denounced for invading his privacy is very convenient for the hierarchy, says Conor Cruise O'Brien".

The Cruiser's allegations against the entire hierarchy are remarkable even when compared to those of his journalist colleagues. And (unlike Veronica Guerin) I am not aware that he ever apologised. Accordingly it is worth quoting this particular claim in its entirety [emphasis mine]:

"[On the Question and Answers programme] Vincent Browne considered Veronica's story involved 'an improper invasion of privacy'. He held that invasion of privacy 'is only justifiable where there is a substantial public interest involved and there clearly was not a substantial public interest in that story'.

"Pace Vincent Browne that last point is not self-evident.
Vincent himself referred to important financial questions concerning the diocese of Ferns and praised Veronica for exploring these.

"But might there not be a connection between the various disturbing questions that have arisen concerning the conduct of the diocese of Ferns and the present condition of the Bishop of Ferns, incommunicado in a Florida clinic?

"The questions that are being asked about the Diocese of Ferns are all potentially damaging to the entire hierarchy. It is therefore convenient for the hierarchy that the bishop should be kept out of the way of asking awkward questions.

"We are being led to believe that to go to that clinic for treatment for alcoholism was all Dr Comiskey's spontaneous and unaided idea. But was it? Or did he go there under pressure from higher ecclesiastical authorities? Is he now a free agent who can who can leave that clinic whenever he feels like it. Or is he in fact under a discreet form of detention?

"Remember that in America, most medical care is organised on strictly commercial lines. It is not the patient who comes first. It is the cash customer, the guy who picks up the tab. And if the guy who picks up the tab is an agent of our hierarchy, then the clinic will treat the patients as the hierarchy may require, as long as the hierarchy pays the bills.

If the hierarchy doesn't want Dr Comiskey to leave the clinic, then he will not be allowed to leave the clinic, on strictly medical grounds of course. And if he is not to be allowed to receive messages from the outside, then no such message will be allowed to reach him.

Veronica Guerin's letter, addressed to Dr Comiskey, was returned unopened. That doesn't sound to me like the Bishop Comiskey we know. He would want to know what questions were being put to him, even if he didn't want to answer the questions. I don't believe the letter ever reached him.

The Catholic Church is an intensely secretive institution and never more so than in its present beleaguered condition. That Bishop Comiskey should be kept in isolation for some time is convenient for the hierarchy.

Whether they had any part in creating the condition which is convenient to them is a question that may legitimately be asked, but the idea that Bishop Comiskey needs to have his privacy respected on ethical grounds, inhibits that line of enquiry.

In the circumstances, the conditions under which Dr Comiskey is undergoing treatment in Florida may indeed involve "a substantial public interest."

Contrary to the opinion of the Questions and Answers panel, there is room there for more investigative journalism, not less. But if my surmises are correct, Dr Comiskey may already - after Veronica's visit- have been moved to another address "somewhere in North America".

[1] I recall the story of a Professor who was reviewing an inept scientific paper written by a colleague. His review consisted of two sentences: "This isn't right. This isn't even wrong".

[2] Does Conor Cruise O'Brien believe this paranoid fantasy? Yes he does - in the same way that an anti-Semite believes in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion". In both cases hatred and bigotry have overwhelmed the rational process. The problem is, that whereas Anti-Semitism is generally reviled, Anti-Clericalism is accepted as a politically correct form of hatred.

[3] Father Sean Fortune was a child-abusing thug but he was also an intelligent and hard-working one. I suspect that he read articles like the above with great care. When Bishop Comiskey returned to Ireland in February 1996, I suspect that Sean Fortune showed him the articles and said something like: "These are the lies they told about you. How can you believe what they write about me?"

People who make spurious allegations against Irish Bishops are doing no service to the victims of child abuse. The only person who benefits is the abuser.

Rory Connor
October 2006