Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Countdown to a scandal: how the evil unfolded


THE following is a chronology of the major events leading up to yesterday's report on the Ferns Inquiry.

* April 1984: Tens of thousands of parishoners line the streets of Wexford to welcome Brendan Comiskey when he is appointed Bishop of Ferns.
* Dec 1986: Waterford boy complains to Bishop of Ferns Brendan Comiskey about sexual abuse at hands of Fr Sean Fortune.
* 1987: Bishop Comiskey removes Fr Sean Fortune from duties at his parish at Fethard-on-Sea following complaints of Fr Fortune's behaviour.

- - - - He is sent to London to study communications and seek therapy.

* August 1988: Allegations of abuse first come to light when the South Eastern Health Board investigates complaints of sexual abuse by a priest in the Ferns Diocese from 10 young girls at a national school.

- - - - Bishop Comiskey fails to take action against the priest.

* 1989: Fr Fortune returns to Ireland as director of the Catholic media outlet, the National Association of Community Broadcasting where he is later accused of raping a 15-year-old boy in a studio booth where he recorded religious programmes.

* 1994: Fr Jim Grennan of the parish of Monagreen, Co Wexford, dies after successfully challenging the claims of a group of 10 and 11-year-old school girls that he abused them at the altar while they were preparing for their confirmations.

* March 1995: Victim of Fr Fortune, Colm O'Gorman, complains to gardai of the sexual abuse he encountered and gardai begin investigating Fortune.

* September 1995: As more allegations of abuse become public, Bishop Comiskey flees Ireland to undergo treatment for alcoholism in the US.

- - - - Several months later he is tracked down to a Florida clinic by journalist Veronica Guerin.

* November 1995: Fr Fortune is charged with 22 counts of gross indecency and indecent assault on six youths.

* 2 March 1999: Fr Fortune appears in Wexford Circuit Court where he pleads not guilty to 29 charges of sexual abuse against eight young males between June 1981 and December 1987 in Co Wexford.

- - - - After complaining of feeling weak and appearing to be fall asleep in court, he is remanded by Circuit Court Judge Joseph Matthews to the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum for psychiatric assessment. His lawyer tells the court Fr Fortune was on morphine and was unfit to plead. Due to a hospital strike he is not admitted but remanded to Mountjoy Prison.

* 8 March 1999: Fortune successfully applies for bail to the High Court and is freed by Judge Cyril Kelly on condition that he undergoes a medical examination and lives at his rented accomodation on Bewlewy St in New Ross and signs on at the local Garda station weekly.

- - - - He immediately barricades himself inside his home with steel shutters and installs an alarm and surveillance system and posts warning signs the home is under 24-hour surveillance.

* 14 March 1999: The body of Fr Fortune is discovered by a caretaker in his barricaded rental accomodation in New Ross by a caretaker. An autopsy later reveals he died from an overdose of drugs and alcohol.

* 15 March 1999: Fr Fortune is buried following his funeral in his hometown of Gorey. Former Ferns Bishop Brendan Comiskey flies back from America to celebrate the Mass which is attended by family, friends and 15 fellow priests.

* April 2002: The BBC airs its documentary Suing the Pope that details the sex abuse allegations in Ferns, primarily focussing on the abuses of Fr Fortune.

- - - - The programme generates such outrage that Bishop Brendan Comiskey resigns two weeks later.

* October 2002: Justice Minister Michaell McDowell announces he'll meet victims of clerical sex abuse to discuss the best way to investigate the allegations.

* March 2003: Health Minister Micheal Martin announces that retired Suprmeme Court Judge Frank Murphy will chair an inquiry into allegations of sex abuse within the Ferns diocese.

- - - - Up to 50 people who allege they were sexually abused by priests in the Diocese of Ferns are expected to give evidence.

* 9 April 2003: The Catholic Church admits for the first time its negligence in a sex abuse case - a move which had major implications for future cases taken by victims of clerical abuse.

- - - - Founder of the One in Four victim group, Colm O'Gorman, settles his High Court action against the Church on that date, receiving a settlement of €300,000 and an apology. Mr O'Gorman, who was abused by the late Fr Sean Fortune, said he hoped his case would mark and end to the adversarial approach taken by the Church in relation to victims of sexual abuse.

* Sept 2003: The first victim in the Ferns inquiry testifies.

* Nov 2004: Bishop of Ferns Eamonn Walsh announces that diocese funds are drying up after the church pays out almost €2.8m in compensation claims and legal costs.

* Dec 2004: Pope John Paul sacks two from priests from the Diocese of Ferns after they were found guilty of sex abuse. Fr Donal Collins and Fr James Doyle had both been convicted of sex abuse by the courts in 1998.

- - - - Donal Collins was given a four-year sentence in 1998, with three years being suspended, for indecent assault and gross indecency against teenage boys. In 1990 James Doyle was convicted of indecent assault on a teenage boy and given a suspended sentence of one year. The Catholic Church announces it is to set aside €50 million over the next 10 years to compensate sex abuse victims.

* October 2005: The report on the Ferns Non-Statutory Inquiry is released.

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