Bishop William Lee has described his handling of a complaint of child sexual abuse made against a priest in the Waterford and Lismore Diocese in December 1993 as ‘inadequate’.
In a statement issued yesterday (Thursday), Bishop Lee spoke of his sorrow concerning the case of the priest, who received two recommendations to retain his ministry following clinical assessments in 1994 and 1995.
“In October 1995, having had the benefit of the guidance then emerging from the Bishops’ Advisory Committee on child sexual abuse, I reviewed my earlier decisions in the case and concluded that these had been seriously inadequate,” the statement reads.
“I particularly regretted that I had not sought the immediate withdrawal of the priest from all ministry and that others associated with the new ministry were not informed that allegations had been made.”
Bishop Lee, who had succeeded Dr Michael Russell just months before learning of the allegations, met with the complainants “without the administration of any form or oath” in December 1993 and 1994.
At these meetings, they informed the Bishop about “events years earlier from their childhoods” involving the priest in question.
The Bishop renewed contact with the complainants in 1995 and advised them of the policy regarding the report of abuse allegations to Gardaí “which it was anticipated would be adopted by the Episcopal Conference in January 1996”.
To the knowledge of the complainants, Bishop Lee reported their allegations to the Gardaí in December 1995.
“The complainants themselves took the decision not to make a criminal complaint, and, insofar as I am aware, that has remained their decision to this day,” he stated.
A third assessment of the priest was subsequently conducted at a different treatment centre, which led to a different outcome, as Bishop Lee revealed in his statement.
“On this occasion, the advice offered led me to decide to bring about the withdrawal of the priest in question from the ministry,” he said.
In January 1996, Bishop Lee received further complaints about the same priest, with those complainants also interviewed by the Bishop himself, again “without the administration of an oath”.
The complaints were immediately brought to the attention of Gardaí but, as in the original case, the complainants opted against making a criminal complaint.
In fact, no criminal prosecutions have been brought against the priest with respect to the allegations Bishop Lee was made aware of.
“The priest has not been permitted to exercise any form of ministry since February 1996,” the statement adds.
“Regular contact has been maintained with him and he is the subject of ongoing supervision.”
Bishop Lee added: “I sincerely apologise and am deeply sorry for the inadequacies of my earlier actions in this case.
“I take this opportunity again to invite any person who may have been abused by a priest or religious to come forward to the Diocese and/or to make contact with the State authorities.”