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BBC Documentary "Suing the Pope" (2nd April 2002)

BBC Show Prompted a Rise in Calls About Sex Abuse
Irish Times, June 19, 2002

The BBC documentary that led to the resignation of Bishop Brendan Comiskey prompted a sharp rise in calls to the Wexford Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Services, writes Chris Dooley 

Calls to the service more than doubled after the programme, Suing the Pope, was broadcast on April 2nd. Many callers reported abuse by priests but a significant number alleged abuse by other professionals, including teachers and doctors.

In the month before the broadcast, the Wexford centre received 169 calls, 105 of which were counselling-related. In the month following, the number of calls jumped to 372, of which 263 were counselling-related.

Ms Yvonne Pim, director of the centre, said the figures clearly indicate that the screening of Suing the Pope enabled victims to come forward to seek counselling.

Many of the callers specifically referred to Mr Colm O'Gorman, who related on the programme how he had been abused by Father Seán Fortune and also highlighted the dissatisfaction of victims with the way abuse cases had been dealt with by the Church authorities.

Mr O'Gorman had given the centre permission to give his phone number to other victims and was "bombarded" with calls in the aftermath of the programme, said Ms Pim.

A significant rise in the number of male callers to the centre was also noted. Normally, about 20 per cent of those contacting the service are men but this rose to about 35 per cent after the programme went out. Ms Pim said the response to the programme was a positive development, but it was now crucial that adequate facilities be put in place to deal with the increase in those seeking support after experiencing sexual violence.

A priority, she said, was the need for a sexual-assault treatment unit in the south-east, with forensic medical examination facilities. A unit of this kind has just been opened in Limerick to serve the mid-west.

At present, rape and sexual assault victims in the south-east attend hospitals in the hope that there is a doctor on duty who has been trained in the collection of medical forensic evidence, said Ms Pim. Otherwise they may try to find a GP but many doctors lack the necessary experience.

"If evidence is not collected satisfactorily then cases may not go forward and everyone suffers. The victim obviously does and the perpetrator is still out there," she said.

The Wexford centre has also highlighted the difficulty people living in rural areas face in accessing its services. The centre has outreach services in Gorey, Bunclody, Enniscorthy and New Ross, as well as its main operation in Wexford town, and four out five people using the services are from rural areas.

However, those not living in towns can find it more difficult to access services because of the secrecy surrounding the issue of abuse, and practical problems such as inadequate public transport.

  • The Wexford Rape and Sexual Abuse Services can be contacted at 1800 -330033.

Fortune Victim 'Troubled' by Church Reaction
Irish Times, April 04, 2002

Cardinal Desmond Connell and Archbishop Sean Brady were accused of treating victims of clerical sexual abuse with contempt yesterday.

Mr Colm O'Gorman, a victims of Father Sean Fortune, said yesterday that he had been "deeply troubled" by recent statements from Cardinal Connell and Archbishop Brady.

"The most senior representatives of the church said they didn't have enough detail about this case to comment.

"I feel I have been treated with contempt by them. They seem to be distancing themselves from Bishop Comiskey.

"There is a danger he will be scapegoated and that is regrettable."

Mr O'Gorman said he had spoken to five more of Fortune's victims who up until now had never disclosed that they were abused.

Since the original broadcast of the BBC documentary Suing the Pope over two weeks ago he has been personally contacted by "many, many people who told me the horrific stories of abuse and neglect by the church authorities".

Another victim, Mr Pat Jackman, said the Wexford Rape Crisis Centre had received 110 calls following the screening of Suing the Pope on RTÉ on Tuesday night and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre had received 70 calls. The two men, as well as Mr Donncha McGloinn held a press conference yesterday.

They said they wanted the Pope to refuse the resignation of Dr Comiskey who was to travel to Rome to deliver it this week.

They said it would be refreshing if the Pope told Dr Comiskey to stand his ground and answer questions about his handling of clerical abuse in the Diocese of Ferns.

Mr Jackman said that having taken part in a "full and frank" inquiry the bishop could then resign some time after that.

Mr McGloinn said the church was clearly "out of touch" with the majority of Irish people. He said they needed to show concern for people who had been abused by priests prior to the introduction of church guidelines in 1996.

"We don't want anything fancy, just an explanation." All political leaders, the men said, must now respond clearly and unequivocally and show leadership in finally addressing the issue fully. The Fine Gael leader, Mr Michael Noonan, said yesterday he believed there should be an independent inquiry.

The men are meeting with the Minister for Health, Mr Martin, this evening to tell him an independent inquiry must be established.

The victims said they had a number of questions which they want answered by Cardinal Connell, Archbishop Brady and the Pope.

They want to know what was known by the Diocese of Ferns, the Irish church hierarchy and the Vatican from 1975 onwards about Sean Fortune's sexual abuse of children.

They asked how many complaints the Irish Catholic church has received, "in all its separate and distinct forms" about the rape and abuse of children by diocesan priests?

How many of these complaints and contacts has the church passed fully and completely to the civil authorities?

Finally, they asked if the Irish Catholic church and the Vatican would undertake to guarantee full and frank co-operation with an independent State inquiry, should one be instituted.

They also want all files held by the church on actual and alleged abuse of children by diocesan priests available to the inquiry.

Bishop's Apology Was 'Too Little, Too Late'
Irish Times, 21 March 2002 by Maria Pepper, in Wexford

Two of the sexual abuse victims of Wexford priest, Father Sean Fortune, who told their story in a BBC documentary on Tuesday night have said they are not satisfied with the response of the Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey, following the programme.

Dr Comiskey declined to be interviewed for the documentary, Suing the Pope , which featured the personal testimonies of four of Father Fortune's victims and also linked the suicides of four other young men in the Fethard-on-Sea area of Co Wexford with the priest's sexual abuse activities.

But the bishop issued a statement yesterday.

Quoting from a letter he sent to BBC journalist, Ms Sarah McDonald, in February communicating his decision not to take part in the programme, Bishop Comiskey said he had publicly apologised already and did so again now to any person in the Diocese of Ferns who had been sexually abused by a priest.

"Along with others in positions of authority I have learned many painful lessons about the pervasiveness of child sexual abuse. I know that in responding in the past to complaints of abuse I have not always got it right," he said.

Bishop Comiskey, who is being sued by six of Father Fortune's victims in relation to his alleged failure to take appropriate action to protect them from abuse, said he regretted Ms McDonald had chosen to ignore his statement in the making of the programme.

He reiterated his "heartfelt apology" to the survivors and invited them to come forward.

His spokesman, Father John Carroll, said that as a result of the comments made by four of the victims on the programme, Bishop Comiskey felt he was permitted to write to them for the first time.

"This is a course of action which the Bishop has - to date - not felt free to take lest it be misinterpreted as seeking to dissuade them from the legal route to justice which is their natural right," said Father Carroll.

However, Mr Damien McAlean who was abused by Father Fortune when he was a 13-year-old scout in Belfast in the late 1970s, said yesterday that as far as he was concerned, it was "too little, too late".

"That is not an apology," he said. "Anyone can write down 'sorry' on a piece of paper."

Mr McAlean, who is now 36 and living in Wexford town, said he felt "totally shattered" after watching the programme. He found it difficult to watch images of Father Fortune, who committed suicide in 1999 while facing 66 criminal charges of sexual abuse involving eight boys.

He agreed to be interviewed mainly because he wanted to encourage other people who have been abused by Father Fortune or anyone else to come forward.

"I said I was not going to get my face covered. I had nothing to be ashamed of. I did nothing wrong. I wanted to say to other people who have been abused that it's better to come forward."

"I honestly reckon there are more people in Belfast who were abused by him and are afraid to come forward."

Another of Father Fortune's victims, Mr Colm O'Gorman, who was involved in the making of the programme and initiated the contacts with many of those featured said in response to Bishop Comiskey's statement: "I would love to know what he is apologising for. I'm relieved to hear that he feels the need to apologise. I think that's appropriate but I would like that apology detailed in some way."

Mr O'Gorman said he was "very proud" to have been involved in the programme.

He said a telephone helpline set up in association with the documentary had been inundated with calls from abuse victims and there was also a huge response to the programme from members of the public in England.

"What I hope is that people who felt angry and moved and outraged at watching the programme will continue that and do something effective with it. We have gone a long way in Ireland in relation to this issue but we have a way to go and let's keep going," he said.

The programme resulted in a huge number of calls to South East Radio in Wexford yesterday, according to spokeswoman for the station. People began telephoning at 8 a.m., expressing support for the victims' courage.

Men Abused by Wexford Priest to Talk on TV
Irish Times, 19 March 2002 by Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

Four men abused as teenagers by Wexford priest Father Seán Fortune tell their stories for the first time publicly, on a BBC2 television programme tonight.

Suing the Pope, a programme in the Correspondent series, will be broadcast at 11.20 p.m. It also associates the suicides of four young men in the Fethard-on-Sea area of Wexford with the activities of Father Fortune, who was curate at Poulfur there, and reports that four priests of Ferns diocese have been accused of sexually molesting children this past 20 years.

The programme includes clips from a video in which Father Fortune is seen having sex with an unidentified 15-year-boy who, it reports, later used the video to compel the priest to end the abuse.

All four men are deeply critical of the Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey.

They also claim that the bishop has had no contact with any of them, despite being aware of their experiences.

Dr Comiskey declined to answer questions put by the programme, though when doorstepped by the programme on his way to say Mass, he said that when complaints were brought to his notice he moved Father Fortune out of his parish and sent him for treatment.

Mr Colm O'Gorman, now 35 and living in London, relates how he was assaulted and raped by Father Fortune for 2½ years from the age of 14, at Poulfur, where the priest was curate from 1981.

Mr Donncha McGloin remembers how when he was 15 Father Fortune raped him in a "very brutal, brief" act in a booth used for recording religious programmes in Dublin.

Mr Pat Jackman explains how when he was 15 the priest put him through "11 hours of a constant torture ending up in a sexual act of sorts" at Poulfur.

Mr Damien McAlean from Belfast tells how he was sexually assaulted by the priest on a scouting trip there when he was 13.

Mrs Monica Fitzpatrick tells how she discovered the body of her son Peter, who had committed suicide, and remembered him telling her about Father Fortune's activities with others. She is convinced her son's death was related to the priest's behaviour.

Ms Gemma Hearne explains how when Bishop Comiskey was appointed bishop of Ferns in 1984 she went to see him about Father Fortune.

But the priest was only removed after Colm O'Gorman went to the Garda in the mid 1990s and 66 charges were made against the priest, involving eight boys.

Father Fortune committed suicide in 1999 before the court hearing took place.

Six of his victims are now suing Bishop Comiskey, the Papal Nuncio, and the Pope.