DUBLIN – A Roman Catholic diocese at the center of Ireland's child-abuse scandals appealed Tuesday to its parishioners to cover some of its more than $14 million in bills to victims and lawyers.
Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns, the southeast Irish diocese that was first to face state investigations into decades of cover-ups involving pedophile priests, spelled out its abuse-related costs Tuesday in a rare admission.
Brennan said the diocese has already paid euro8 million to settle lawsuits from 48 abuse victims. But it has yet to settle 13 pending cases, and also has remortgaged the bishop's residence to cover euro2 million in its own lawyers' bills for defending the church.
The diocese's chief financial officer, Eugene Doyle, said the church had no option but to ask its faithful to help foot the bill. He estimated that the diocese's 100,000 members in 80 parishes would be asked to contribute $85,000 annually for the next 20 years, or euro1.2 million total — but stressed that no money would be taken from normal weekly collections.
The appeal coincides with Ireland's worst recession since the 1930s, with unemployment at a 15-year high of 12.5 percent.
Colm O'Gorman, the former Ferns altar boy whose campaigning pressured the government into investigating pedophile cover-ups in the region, said it was obscene for the church to be seeking funds from the faithful.
"The Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest institutions on the planet. Let it be accountable for its gross institutional failures, rather than looking to people who can ill afford to pay for those failures," said O'Gorman, who founded a counseling service for the church's abuse victims and today directs the Irish chapter of Amnesty International.
O'Gorman said his 1998 lawsuit against the church — which ultimately forced then-Ferns Bishop Brendan Comiskey to resign — was designed to make the church accountable for its sins, not to impose a bill "on people sitting in pews in Ferns."
The Ferns diocese says it has received euro5.8 million from the church's Irish fund for abuse settlements, euro1.5 million from insurance policies, euro650,000 from the government to defray legal costs, and euro105,000 from child-abusing priests themselves. It also has run down its own savings accounts and secured a euro1.8 million loan against the bishop's residence.
Doyle said this loan has created a 20-year bill costing euro120,000 annually. He said diocesan fundraisers hope that congregations will cover half of this bill.
Child-abuse scandals have caused exceptional trauma in Ireland, a once-devoutly Catholic nation that until the 1980s exported priests worldwide.
An Irish government collapsed in 1994 amid arguments over its failure to extradite a pedophile priest to the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland. A year later the first Irish abuse victims went public with lawsuits against the church.
Since 2002, a government-organized compensation board has paid out more than euro800 million to 13,000 people who were abused in church-run residential institutions for children and another euro150 million to the victims' lawyers.
Few of Ireland's 26 dioceses have released any details of abuse lawsuits or settlements. Ferns is the first to offer specifics of its abuse-related finances.