The death has taken place of Bishop Laurence Forristal, the retired Catholic Bishop of Ossory. He was 87.

A native of Jerpoint, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, Dr Forristal led the diocese for 26 years, resigning on age grounds in 2007. The diocese covers most of Kilkenny and parts of counties Laois and Offaly.

The current Bishop of Ossory, Bishop Dermot Farrell, said it was with great sadness that he announced the bishop's peaceful death in Saint Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny this morning.

In a separate statement, the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, said he too was saddened by the news.

He said Dr Forristal was "well known as a humorous, gentle and wise pastor and as a caring and generous man," adding that "he possessed a love of humanity and for creation as well as a prodigious work rate."

Among the late bishop's contributions to Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, the primate highlighted Dr Forristal's "notable work in child safeguarding which included the 1996 publication of Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response.

Managing Allegations 

In 1990, before any allegations of clerical abuse became public here, Bishop Forristal was appointed by the Irish hierarchy to chair an internal committee tasked with assessing the future legal implications of clerical child sexual abuse cases. The establishment of the committee was not announced publicly.

In 1994, the first in a long series of abuse scandals broke with the unmasking by UTV's Chris Moore of the serial paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth. That same year Dr Forristal's fellow bishops appointed him to the chair of the Irish Catholic Church's committee which drafted what became known as the "Green Book" and the 1996 Framework Document.

Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response was the first set of guidelines to be published here on how all Catholic authorities - in dioceses, orders and congregations - should handle allegations of child sexual abuse. And it stated that all credible allegations against priests should be reported to the gardaí and health authorities.

In 2009, a case which Bishop Forristal had mismanaged was dealt with by the Murphy Commission's investigation into clerical abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese.

It highlighted the failure by the Church authorities in Ossory and Dublin over a sixteen year period to report to the civil authorities that two Dublin mothers had alleged that one of Bishop Forristal's priests, who the Commission called "Fr Cicero", had sexually abused girls as young as eight in 1986.

This was at the beginning of Fr Cicero's prolonged secondment from Ossory to the Dublin Archdiocese. Bishop Forristal admitted to the Commission that he himself was mainly responsible for the delays in having the priest clinically assessed.

The Commission's report stated that, in his statement to it, "Bishop Forristal very fairly accepted responsibility for the delays in dealing with Fr Cicero in the late 1990s. He said that, on reviewing the history of his dealings with Fr Cicero: 'I have been deeply disturbed by my own delays and failures in applying the principles of our Church Guidelines, particularly that of the paramountcy of the safety of children'.

He went on to say that Archbishop Connell and his chancellors were continually urging him to take action. "Any delay was my doing and was in no way due to the Archbishop of Dublin or his staff."

However, the Commission said it was "extraordinary" that Bishop Forristal and the Dublin Archdiocese had allowed Monsignor Gerard Sheehy, Fr Cicero's superior at his workplace, the Dublin Marriage Tribunal, to have such an influence in determining how allegations against the abuser were handled. It underlined that Bishop Forristal and the Dublin Archdiocese had the power to have their wishes in respect of Fr Cicero implemented.

The Commission, which was chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, noted that the failure to report Fr Cicero to the gardaí and the health authorities had been in breach of the Church's own 1996 guidelines.

The Commission's report also stated:

"Bishop Forristal told the Commission that he was "very slow in progressing the various steps which ought to have been taken". While he did not regard it as an excuse, he told the Commission that both he and Fr Cicero had extremely serious health problems around this time (1997-1999). The Commission is satisfied that these health problems may have contributed to the delay and that there was no active conspiracy to prevent Fr Cicero having the assessment and treatment, but it still regards the delay as unacceptable."

Bishop Forristal was treated for diabetes during much of his life. In retirement he lived in and ministered to many residents of Gowran Abbey Nursing Home in Co Kilkenny.