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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 13:55 GMT
Church regrets row over donations
Dr Seamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry
Dr Hegarty admitted imposing a levy on all parishes
The Bishop of Derry has said he regrets the "disquiet" caused by paying parishioners' money into a fund for victims of clerical sex abuse.

Dr Seamus Hegarty made the statement after parishioners complained donations were being put into a fund compensating victims of paedophile priests.

Parishioners were angry their money was being paid into the Stewardship Trust without their knowledge.

The revelations were made in BBC NI's Spotlight programme on Tuesday.

Parishioners learned their donations were being paid into the trust when the bishop was questioned on the programme.

The trust is a central church fund which compensates victims of paedophile priests and pays for legal costs associated with claims of clerical abuse against children.

Dr Hegarty admitted imposing a levy on all parishes within the diocese to raise money for the fund.

Church

His statement said that he "sincerely regrets" the disquiet caused by donations being paid into the trust.

It also said a letter explaining the church's obligations would be circulated throughout the diocese as soon as practicable.

The statement said: "The issue of child sexual abuse is one that has been enormously damaging throughout Irish society.

"The Catholic Church in Ireland has a responsibility to ensure that for its part, efforts to address the issue are properly and promptly resourced.

"Like diocese throughout the country, the Diocese of Derry takes its responsibility to contribute to this effort extremely seriously.

"To this end, we have acted quickly to meet our financial obligations in relation to the Stewardship Trust Fund.

"In some quarters, disquiet has been expressed that a recent inaugural payment was made by the diocese before all parishioners had been informed of our new obligations."

This is more or less a fine on something that we believe the clerical Church as a whole should have been capable of dealing with themselves
Former editor of the Derry Journal Frank Curran

Speaking to a BBC reporter as they left Mass at Saint Eugene's Cathedral in Derry, some members of the congregation said they did not agree with their donations being given to the fund without their knowledge.

They said any money they had given specifically to their local church should be spent on it.

Frank Curran, former editor of the Derry Journal, said he believed some Catholics in the town would defy the church and withhold their contributions altogether.

"This is more or less a fine on something that we believe the clerical Church as a whole should have been capable of dealing with themselves," he said.

"Catholics in general feel very bitter about the number of (abuse) cases that have come to light.

"They certainly don't feel any responsibility for what happened and they think it should be a matter for the hierarchy to settle on its own."

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Patrick Walsh, has said no parish collection money or diocesan appeal money had been put into the fund.

He said the annual Down and Connor contribution to the fund was 266,999.

"The only money used for the Stewardship Trust is money not ring fenced for a specific purpose, for example money realised from the sale of diocesan land or property," he said.


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