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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Church to study sex abuse claims
A senior Catholic clergyman in Northern Ireland has said the church will investigate allegations of child sex abuse by priests dating back more than 60 years.

It follows an emergency meeting at Maynooth when the church revealed it was establishing its own inquiry into how it dealt with such complaints.

The church's 30 bishops in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland met on Monday to discuss their contribution to the Irish Government's inquiry into alleged abuse by priests, which is to be led by an Irish lawyer.

On Wednesday, the Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor, Bishop Donal McKeown, said guidelines would now be reviewed.

Bishop Donal McKeown:
Bishop Donal McKeown: "Files going back 62 years will be investigated"

He told the BBC: "What we are looking for now is not just to implement and to revise the guidelines, but to investigate all complaints over the past 62 years.

"And to publish a report on how they were handled, and to hold up hands up over any information that will come out that things were covered up or that the truth was not out."

The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Sean Brady, has already said an independent audit will be held into the controversy surrounding the alleged abuse.

The terms and reference of the audit are still being drawn up.

Victims protest The bishops' meeting in Maynooth followed a demonstration by more than 150 people in Dublin at the weekend.

The protesters called for the resignation of Dublin Archbishop Cardinal Desmond Connell, who was celebrating a Mass to mark the birth of the founder of the Christian Brothers religious order in Ireland.

Many of the protesters said they had been abused by Christian Brothers.

Bishop Brendan Comiskey
Bishop Brendan Comiskey admitted he had not protected children

Cardinal Connell refused to comment as he went into the Christian Brothers' bicentenary celebration at the Royal Dublin Society headquarters on Sunday.

But in his homily, he acknowledged many Christian Brothers had "betrayed a trust" and that "unthinkable harm" had been caused.

The Christian Brothers have had a strong link with Irish education for more than 60 years and ran many schools in the Irish Republic and some in Northern Ireland.

The latest controversy has followed allegations that a Catholic priest, Father Sean Fortune, who committed suicide three years ago, sexually abused children.

On Saturday, the Pope accepted the resignation of Dr Brendan Comiskey, the Bishop of Ferns in County Wexford.

Dr Comiskey resigned after criticism of how he handled the case of Father Fortune, following a BBC television documentary last month.

Dr Comiskey admitted he had not done enough to protect children in his County Wexford diocese.

The Ferns case has triggered fresh claims of clerical sex abuse incidents and a flood of anger in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Ireland, where the Church's image has been severely damaged by a string of scandals in the last decade.

Pressure on the Catholic Church has also increased elsewhere in recent months, with a number of abuse allegations in the United States culminating in legal action against some of the most senior figures in the Church's hierarchy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Denis Murray
"What is angering Catholics most is how church leaders dealt with abusing clergy"
Auxilliary Bishop of Down and Conor Donal McKeown:
"The guidelines will now be reviewed and all cases in the past 62 years will be investigated"
See also:

19 Mar 02 | Correspondent
Suing the Pope
21 Mar 02 | Europe
Pope denounces 'evil' sex priests
04 Apr 02 | Americas
Vatican sued in sex abuse cases
04 Apr 02 | Americas
NY church reveals 'sex abuse' list
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