The Belfast Telegraph has claimed that the Bishop of Derry was involved in a 'secret deal’ over an alleged child sex abuse case.
The article stated that Bishop Seamus Hegarty, along with Bishop Edward Daly and the alleged abuser, were named as defendants in an out-of-court settlement.
The settlement related to an eight-year-old girl who was allegedly sexually abused over a ten-year period starting from 1979.
It is reported that the church handed over £12,000 in compensation to the victim and that she also received a letter of apology from her alleged abuser, who was a priest from the Derry Diocese.
The compensation and letter were subject to a confidentiality agreement between the parties.
A spokesman for the Derry Diocese said no immediate response would be forthcoming as church records would have to be checked.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, Dr Hegarty was one of three defendants named in the civil legal action.
The case was settled in 2000 without admission of liability by the church, but with a payment of £12,000 to the alleged victim and a handwritten letter of apology from the priest.
In addition to contacting a spokesperson for the Derry Diocese, the Belfast Telegraph also contacted a spokesperson for the Diocese of Down and Connor.
Fr Edward McGee responded by saying: ‘Since the implementation of the Framework for the Church's Response to Child Abuse in 1996, and more recently in our present Safeguarding Children - Standards and Guidance for the Catholic Church in Ireland (2009), it is policy that any concerns of a safeguarding nature are passed onto the relevant statutory authorities and confidentiality cannot be assured either for the perpetrators of child abuse or the survivors.
‘This process is managed by the Safeguarding Office, which is run by professionals in the field of child protection and safeguarding and who regularly liaise with the inter-agency forum to ensure the care and protection of our young people.’
Dr Seamus Hegarty issued a statement in response to the article.
He said: ‘The family involved brought the allegation to the attention of the diocese in January 1994. A professional assessment of the priest was carried out. The diocese notified Social Services in May 1995.
‘The priest left parish ministry in June 1995 and remains out of parish ministry. The bishop met with senior members of the RUC in October 1995 regarding the matter.
‘Bishop Daly, Bishop Hegarty and the priest were sued by the person making the allegation. After a protracted period of time, the priest paid £12,000 to her.
‘The diocese made no contribution to the money paid by the priest. The case against Bishop Daly and Bishop Hegarty was dismissed.
‘A confidentiality agreement was not proposed by the diocese, but was proposed to the diocese by one of the other parties, and, to facilitate a settlement, the diocese agreed.
‘This agreement was in the year 2000; five years after the civil authorities were first aware of the matter.
‘It is important to note that the diocese is today committed to the standards and guidance in the Safeguarding Children document; this involves a full and immediate communication of allegations to the civil authorities.’