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Irish bishop 'sorry' for abuse failings

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
  • Bishop William Lee apologizes for failings related to alleged abuse in his diocese
  • Said in 1994 he allowed priest accused of sexual abuse to continue working
  • Lee later concluded his actions were "inadequate," reported the allegations to the police

(CNN) -- A Catholic bishop in Waterford, Ireland, apologized Thursday for his "inadequate" response to complaints that a priest in his diocese had sexually abused children.

William Lee, the bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the southeast of Ireland, said in 1994 he allowed the priest to continue in his ministry after he was evaluated by a clinician who had been told in detail about the allegations.

Lee later concluded his actions had been "inadequate" and reported the allegations to the police, but the complainants declined to make a criminal complaint, he said.

A second round of complaints came in from new alleged victims in January 1996 and Lee barred the cleric from exercising priestly functions the following month, he said.

No victims have ever filed a criminal complaint against the priest, he said.

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Ireland has been badly shaken by widespread reports of child abuse, physical and sexual, by Catholic clergy going back at least seven decades. Two bishops have resigned over the scandal, and Pope Benedict XVI issued a special pastoral letter on Saturday saying he was deeply sorry for the abuse.

Colm O'Gorman, who campaigns on behalf of victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, said Lee's apology raised more questions than it answered.

Bishops "routinely referred offending priests to a number of professionals" until they got the advice they wanted, he said.

"The nature of the advice (given to Lee) from the psychiatrist needs to be fully understood. Was any other professional advice sought?" he asked.

Even if Lee performed relatively well compared to other Irish bishops of the day, that is a low standard, O'Gorman added.

"Should we celebrate that a bishop is telling the truth? This is the minimum that any organizational head should be expected to meet. This is the basic standard -- and it has taken him 15 years," O'Gorman said.

"If he knew his handling was seriously inadequate, where was he to speak truth over the past 10 years?" O'Gorman demanded, referring to the time activists have been demanding the church come clean about child abuse.

Lee's apology came of his own volition, not on orders from above, Irish Bishops Conference spokesman Martin Long said.

"It's up to bishops," Long told CNN. "They wish to be as transparent as possible about what happened before the church's mandatory guidelines came into effect in 1996."

In addition to the two bishops who have resigned over the crisis, three others have submitted resignations which have yet to be acted on. Ireland has 26 bishops.

In the past five years, Ireland's Catholic Church has had three separate outside investigations into sexual and physical child abuse by priests, nuns, and staff at Catholic-run institutions such as schools and orphanages.