The admission by the Bishop of Clogher came as Pope Benedict’s pastoral letter — containing an unprecedented apology for the sex abuse scandals in Ireland involving churchmen — was read out to the faithful at Sunday Mass across the country.
The Most Rev Joseph Duffy admitted that he had known about allegations of abuse against a priest in his diocese in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, in 1989, but failed to tell the police or civil authorities.
He had been informed that Father John McCabe had abused a young boy in his care, but he failed to report the incident to the police or social services in Northern Ireland.
In spite of complaints from the boy’s mother, the Enniskillen school at which McCabe taught wrote him a reference to help him to get a job at an integrated, non-denominational school in Belfast.
Six years later McCabe was jailed for 20 months on abuse charges.
Bishop Duffy said in a statement that he regretted how he handled the McCabe case and accepted that he should have told police about the family’s allegations.
Bishop Duffy is the third Irish bishop in a week to admit to his role in covering up the activities of paedophile priests.
The latest admission is likely to undermine Vatican efforts to contain the scandal in Ireland.
The Catholic hierarchy is trying to draw a line under similar accusations of abuse and cover-ups involving the Church in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Brazil in a growing scandal that has even drawn in the Pope.
It emerged last week that in 1980, when he was a cardinal in Germany, Pope Benedict had agreed that a priest accused of abusing a young boy be given therapy rather than the police being brought in to investigate.
The priest went on to reoffend, but he remained in the Church. Pope Benedict, making his weekly address yesterday, did not refer to the Irish letter or the scandal directly.
However, he urged Catholics not to rush to judgment, and cited the Gospel story about Jesus inviting those without sin to cast the first stone towards an adulteress.
“While acknowledging her sin, he does not condemn her, but urges her to sin no more.”
Although the Pope made a full apology in the Irish letter to the victims of abuse, his failure to apologise for a systematic cover-up in which accused clergy were transferred to different areas, or the abused sworn to silence, has angered some people.
Gary O’Sullivan, Editor of The Irish Catholic newspaper, called for the mass resignation of those Irish bishops who were in positions of authority during the paedophile cover-up.
Cardinal Seán Brady, the Irish Catholic leader, said last week, in response to demands that he resign over his role in silencing two young victims of a notorious paedophile priest, that he would spend the rest of Lent considering his position.
Ireland’s main opposition party, Fine Gael, expressed disappointment that the papal letter did not address the refusal of the papal nuncio — or Vatican ambassador to Ireland — to co-operate with two public inquiries into clerical abuse.
The papal nuncio in Dublin has used diplomatic immunity to refuse to collaborate in any investigations into clerical child sex abuse.
Alan Shatter, the Fine Gael spokesman on children, said: “We should not regard it as acceptable that the Vatican uses its ecclesiastical authority to interfere in the internal affairs of this state and also invokes diplomatic protocol when it suits it, to withhold information from a government-appointed commission investigating allegations of clerical abuse.”
Father Brian D’Arcy, an influential author and television personality, said he was disappointed that the Pope failed to lay out a major reform programme in his pastoral letter.
“Those reforms should include celibacy, canon law and unquestioning authority,” he said.
“All those questions need to be asked in the reform of the institution. His letter is only one step on the way.”
Father D’Arcy criticised the pontiff for linking a decline in churchgoing to sexual abuse.
“He seems to be linking a decline in faith to this abuse, and that is wholly incorrect,” he added.
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