Recently retired Bishop of Derry, Dr Séamus Hegarty, has acknowledged that his practice in the past was “sometimes poor” in relation to handling of allegations of child abuse.
Dr Hegarty, was bishop of Derry from 1994 until last week, and had previously served as bishop of Raphoe from 1982 until his appointment in Derry.
His resignation was accepted by the Vatican last week after he announced his attention to stand down, citing health reasons. A diocesan spokesperson said Dr Hegarty tendered his resignation, together with medical reports, due to “an irreversible and progressive” health condition which rendered him unable to fulfil the role of diocesan bishop.
As well as the review into safeguarding practice in the Derry diocese, a similar review was also published into safeguarding in the Raphoe diocese, where Dr Hegarty had been bishop. The Raphoe report revealed significant errors by successive bishops. It also revealed there had been 52 allegations made against 14 priests since 1975 and that four had been convicted, including notorious serial paedophile, Eugene Greene.
Responding to both reviews with a personal statement, Dr Hegarty said; “About this time last year, as Bishop of Derry, I asked the National Board for Safeguarding Children to include in the Diocese of Derry in the first group of dioceses being reviewed. I am grateful that they agreed.
“The Derry report indicated that the police and Social Services have full confidence in the current management of allegation in the Diocese of Derry.
“However, both the Derry and the Raphoe Reports indicate deficits in the management of allegations historically, including during my time as bishop. These deficits cannot be undone and, at the personal level, I am sorry that this is the case.”
He also said he is “deeply sorry” for the hurt caused by his decisions. “I was a diocesan bishop for thirty years, first in Raphoe and later in Derry. I now look back and know that my practice in the past was sometimes poor and I am deeply sorry that anyone was hurt through my management of allegations historically.
“I know that I made big efforts to improve as time went on and this is reflected in the Derry report,” he said.
In a message to the victims of clerical abuse, the retired bishop said; “Today I think of the men and women whom I met, over my years as diocesan bishop, who were abused as children by priests.
“I think of their courage and their pain and pray that healing may be theirs.
“It is for their sake, as well as for the good of children throughout the Church. that we must ensure that the past is never repeated,” he added.
Following the publication of both the Derry and Raphoe reports, calls were made for Dr Hegarty to explain his actions as diocesan bishop on both Sees and to answer questions on the issues raised by Ian Elliot and his team at the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.
However, Diocesan Administrator, Monsignor Eamon Martin, that, as a result of his health concerns, Dr Hegarty would not be able to answer questions in public.
He said that he had been involved with Dr Hegarty at all stages during the review.