New allegations against Catholic Church of mishandling child abuse

The Catholic Church in Ireland faced fresh allegations of mishandling child sex abuse yesterday following claims that a bishop was party to swearing to secrecy a girl abused by a priest in an out-of-court settlement.

Dr Seamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry, was one of three priests named in a civil settlement after an eight-year-old girl was abused over a ten-year period from 1979.

The Belfast Telegraph this morning reported that £12,000 was paid to the alleged victim, subject to a confidentiality agreement. She told the newspaper that the “settlement meant nothing” to her and that 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 said 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.

The fresh controversy follows an apology from the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, for his role in a cover-up of the activities of a convicted paedophile priest.

In the latest case the woman said that her decade of abuse by a priest began when the abuser befriended her family in 1979. She told her parents only on the day of her 18th birthday after becoming overwhelmed by events.

A spokesman for Bishop Hegarty said yesterday he was aware of the case, but would not be commenting until a detailed review of the file had been carried out.

An official responsible for overseeing the Church’s handling of abuse claims said out-of-court settlements were not acceptable.

Ian Elliott, chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, said: “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 (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and the social services.”

Today, the Pope will sign a pastoral letter addressing the clerical sexual abuse scandals which have engulfed the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.