27 Nov 2010

Irish survivor of childhood clergy abuse was paid to keep quiet by signing secret civil settlement

The Guardian - UK March 18, 2010

Irish Catholic church in new child sex abuse allegations

Reports of settlement overseen by bishop of Derry adds to abuse scandals surrounding Catholic churches in Europe

Henry McDonald | Ireland correspondent

The Catholic church in Ireland was today embroiled in another child abuse scandal after allegations that a victim was paid to keep quiet in a deal overseen by the bishop of Derry.

Bishop Seamus Hegarty was named as a party in a confidential civil settlement after a woman claimed she was abused by a priest for more than a decade, according to a report in today's Belfast Telegraph. According to the newspaper, the claim was settled without admission of liability but with a payment of £12,000 to the alleged victim. The settlement between the archdiocese of Derry and the woman, who was eight when the abuse began, reportedly contained a confidentiality clause preventing her from discussing the case.

Her ordeal allegedly began in 1979 and lasted for a decade before she revealed at her 18th birthday party that she had been repeatedly abused by the priest.

The allegation came as further developments in similar abuse scandals in Germany and Austria compounded the woes of Pope Benedict XVI. In Germany, the archbishop of Munich, Reinhard Marx, said Catholic bishops in Benedict's home state of Bavaria felt "deep consternation and shame" at the reports of abuse.

"The priority is the search for the truth and achieving an open atmosphere that will give the victims courage to speak about what happened to them," Marx said. The pope has promised to issue a letter on the scandal, but an Austrian priest yesterday berated the pontiff for his reluctance to comment on the issue.

"If the pope himself doesn't take a stance, apologise for what Rome has committed over the past decades in terms of cover-up, then our believers will become even more disappointed than they already are," Father Udo Fischer, who heads a parish in the Lower Austrian village of Paudorf, told the ORF public broadcaster.

The Derry abuse case allegedly began after the priest was invited into the family home by the alleged victim's parents, who had no idea he was a child abuser. She claims he told the girl that God would punish her if she spoke out about her ordeal.

After she did speak out, her family approached the diocese in Derry, and the victim claims the cleric was moved to another parish despite meetings with Hegarty in 1994 during which he told her family he would deal with the problem.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph today, her family described Hegarty as being "totally unsympathetic" during their initial meetings. Her father said: "He just glared at me and scowled that this priest was seriously ill, as if I should feel pity for him."

A spokesperson for Hegarty said: "They [the diocese] will not be making any comment until they have read the story fully and gone into the parish files and read all the details."The scandal comes amid calls for national inquiries in Germany and Ireland to uncover the detail and extent of sexual abuse by priests.

With the abuse allegations affecting Catholic churches across Europe, an Austrian priest today took the unusual step of criticising the pope today, saying he should have taken a stronger stance against abusers a long time ago.

Father Udo Fischer, who heads a parish in the lower Austrian village of Paudorf, said Jesus would "certainly not" have stayed silent and called on the pontiff . He called on the pope to apologise and reform the church.

Yesterday, the head of Ireland's Catholics, Cardinal Sean Brady, apologised for his role in covering up abuse after admitting being present at two closed tribunals to discuss abuse allegations against Father Brendan Smyth.

Smyth died in prison while serving 12 years for 74 sexual assaults on children.

During those meetings, two children were made to sign an oath of silence to the Catholic church, stating that they would not talk about their claims with anybody other than a priest.

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