Bishop of Derry ‘helped cover up abuse’

The Bishop of Derry has been accused of being involved in a compensation deal to cover up alleged child sex abuse. Dr Seamus Hegarty was one of three priests named in a civil settlement after an eight-year-old girl was abused over a 10-year period from 1979.

The Belfast Telegraph reported £12,000 was paid to the alleged victim, subject to a confidentiality agreement.

She told the paper the “settlement meant nothing” to her and a note of apology “wasn’t sincere”.

The civil action was settled out of court in December 2000 and was signed by lawyers on behalf of Dr Hegarty, Bishop Edward Daly and the alleged abuser without admission of liability.

Bishop Daly was named in the court papers, but at the time his duties were being carried out by another bishop due to illness.

There was a handwritten letter asking for “some forgiveness” from the alleged abuser in which he offered the family his “deepest apology for any pain I caused you through inappropriate gesture or mistaken signs of affection”.

The Derry diocese told the paper it would not comment immediately because church records would need to be checked.

The girl’s father said that they had not gone to the police because “it was not the culture” in Derry at the time to do so.

Ian Elliott, who is chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, said that he did not know the details of the specific case but that out of court settlements were “not acceptable”.

“If any situation comes to light involving a child then the policy of the church, and the absolute commitment that is given, is that that information will be conveyed to the appropriate state authorities, the PSNI and the social services,” he said.

In 2005 Bishop Hegarty disclosed details of the extent of child sex abuse allegations against priests in his diocese, revealing that 26 had been accused in 40 years.

It comes as the head of Ireland’s Catholics apologised for his role in mishandling a serial child abuser.

As a priest in 1975 Cardinal Sean Brady was at meetings where children signed vows of silence over complaints against paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth.

Smyth was eventually convicted of dozens of offences against children.

But despite allegations being previously investigated by church officials, including Cardinal Brady, it was almost 20 years before he was brought to justice.

He said he wanted to apologise to “all those who feel I have let them down”.

On Wednesday Cardinal Brady said that for the sake of abuse survivors and the church “we have to stop the drip, drip, drip of revelations of failure”.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI has announced that on Friday he will sign his long awaited pastoral letter dealing with paedophilia in Ireland.

He said in recent months the church in Ireland had been “rocked by the crisis of abuse of minors” and hoped his letter would “help repentance, healing and renewal”.