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Last Updated: Friday, 25 February, 2005, 14:58 GMT
Priests discussing sex abuse levy
Donations were being paid into a trust for victims of child sex abuse
Priests in Londonderry are holding an emergency meeting to discuss levies imposed on parishes to pay into a fund for victims of clerical sex abuse.

Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty told BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight programme he was raising the money through a 3% levy imposed on all parishes.

He has faced criticism because he paid into the Stewardship Trust Fund without the knowledge of many parishioners.

The BBC has learned that Dr Hegarty has not been invited to the meeting.

Following the programme, Dr Hegarty issued a statement expressing "sincere regret at the disquiet" caused by his actions.

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

It's just morally wrong in the eyes of many people
Pat McArt
Derry Journal

However, priests in the diocese were invited to a meeting at the Iona Retreat Centre at Termonbacca in the city on Friday to discuss the controversy.

They were asked to attend by priests in charge of the four deaneries in the diocese.

Pat McArt, the editor of the Derry Journal newspaper, said many people felt the church was setting up the fund in anticipation of further abuse cases coming to light.

"It's just morally wrong in the eyes of many people. That's not the way most people think it should be done," he said.

He said Bishop Hegarty's comments on the Spotlight programme had "possibly alienated not only the laity but quite a few of his own priests."

Dr Seamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry
Dr Hegarty admitted imposing a levy on all parishes

Mr McArt added that the issue was extremely divisive.

"Bishop Hegarty said people would be very happy, once he explained it, to pay into this fund," said Mr McArt.

"The word on the street is the exact opposite. People are not very happy at all."

On Friday, Bishop of Clogher Dr Joseph Duffy said 105,600 euros had been paid from the diocese into the Stewardship Trust.

"A portion of this sum came from voluntary personal contributions made by the priests of the diocese on foot of an invitation by the bishop," he said.

The remainder was from a general purposes fund made up of money and assets accumulated over the years, the disposal of which was at the bishop's discretion, he said.

"No money collected from parishes for parochial, diocesan or specific purposes has been used for the Stewardship Trust."

On Thursday, Catholic Primate Sean Brady said no money paid by Catholic parishioners for specific purposes had been used for the fund.

Dr Brady said cash donated by congregations for missions and the education of student priests was not diverted to the fund.

The fund was set up by the Irish bishops to fund child protection initiatives and provide financial redress to victims of child sexual abuse by priests.

Monies 'were not paid into fund'
24 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
Church regrets row over donations
24 Feb 05 |  Northern Ireland
Bishop speaks out on abuse case
30 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland

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