After years of sexually abusing young boys while leaders of the Catholic church looked the other way, a prominent Irish priest was arraigned on 29 charges of sodomy, indecent assault and gross indecency Ð showing that the scandal that has rocked the church in the US extends even as far as the devoutly Catholic stronghold of Ireland. The Washington Post reports in a front page article that the case of Reverend Sean Fortune, who is reported to have raped young boys even before his ordination in 1979 (a fact the church knew about but allowed him to become a priest anyway), is one of many incidents involving pedophile priests continuing to surface in Ireland.
Fortune committed suicide 11 days after he was arraigned on these charges in 1999. However, it wasn’t until British Broadcasting Company (BBC) television documentary recounting Fortune’s decade of abuse was aired four months ago that the church was impelled to launch two internal investigations and reexamine complaints going back several decades. Just after the broadcast, Bishop Brendan Comiskey Ð who transferred Fortune from parish to parish and at one point applauded his “enthusiasm, zeal and love” despite receiving scores of complaints about the priest Ð was forced to resign. In addition, the Irish government launched its own inquiry Ð a confidential report was reportedly turned in last week.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has lost so many cases that it has agreed to pay $110 million in compensation to victims of abuse in church-run but publicly-funded vocational schools alone, according to the Post. Overall, monetary settlements have been so extensive that the Irish parliament has had to bail out the church to pay them. “Considering Ireland has a population of close to 4 million people the sums of money are staggering,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Given the inability of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to deal with this widespread problem, can you imagine what the future claims would be in the US if we were to go to a church-run public voucher system?”