Comiskey's turbulent career assessed

Monday 01 April 2002 23.16

Bishop Comiskey's early career in the church was as bright as his later years were stormy. Brendan Comiskey’s clerical career got off to a dream start – he was head of his order in Ireland and Britain at the age of 34, becoming bishop at 45 and receiving his own diocese at 47.

When he arrived at the Bishop's house in Wexford, the Bishop he replaced, the then Papal Nuncio, and the late Cardinal O Fiaich had all been told by a local woman that Father Sean Fortune had been abusing young boys. The Catholic Boy Scouts had already banned Fortune from their association by the time that Gemma Hearne approached her new Bishop.

Bishop Comiskey confronted Wexford People editor Ger Walsh when his paper published a picture of Father Donal Collins, the first priest to be convicted of child sexual offences in the diocese.

In 1995, as the Father Brendan Smyth controversy raged, Bishop Comiskey challenged the Vatican's ban on married priests and was summoned to Rome. Before he could go, he created a sensation by leaving Ferns in September of that year, saying he was taking a sabbatical of three months.

Immediately, a fellow bishop told RTÉ that the bishop had health problems. Eventually, his office issued a statement saying that he was having treatment for alcoholism.

In February 1996, he returned from America and gave a bravura performance at a news conference in St Peter's College in Wexford. He admitted that he had not handled complaints about clergy in his diocese abusing children as well as he should have done. He said: "My biggest mistake, especially in early cases, was to go to the lawyers instead of going to the victims and their families".

However, in the six years since the Bishop's return, Jim Gahan, a parent of a girl who the Health Board says was abused by Father Jim Grennan, has heard nothing from Dr Comiskey.

Mr Gahan said: “He never came near me. If he'd come to the parents the girls instead of relying on the high powered PRO, he wouldn't be in the position he's in today”.

An authority on the media, the Bishop has for some time been Chairman of the Bishops' Commission for Communications.