Schoolgirl's murder to be investigated following abuse reports

The murder of an innocent schoolgirl almost four decades ago was tonight being investigated in the wake of two harrowing reports into the cover-up of clerical abuse.

Bernadette Connolly was 10 years old when she was abducted in Sligo and her mutilated body found in a bog four months later in August 1970.

As the Pope finally spoke today of his regret over a sickening child sex abuse inquiry in Dublin, it emerged the case of a young girl’s horrific death will be re-examined.

The prime suspect in the shocking case was a local priest called Fr Columba, who was said to be protected by a wall of silence by his superiors at the time. He died in 2001.

Allegations over the unsolved case reignited after the publication of the recent Murphy report, which outlined how hundreds of complaints of abuse were covered up by senior clergy.

A second inquiry, the Ryan Report, revealed in May that the Catholic Church and the Gardaí covered up almost four decades of sexual abuse and beatings by priests and nuns on thousands of children in state care.

A garda spokesman confirmed Kieran Kenny, assistant commissioner for the northern region, will examine the investigation file in the case, which he said remains open.

Meanwhile, the Pope said he was deeply disturbed and distressed by the contents of the sickening Dublin inquiry and revealed he plans to write a Pastoral letter to Catholics in Ireland.

After meeting Ireland’s most senior Catholic clerics in Rome, Pope Benedict said he shares the outrage, betrayal and shame felt by so many of the faithful in the country.

“His Holiness asks Catholics in Ireland and throughout the world to join him in praying for the victims, their families and all those affected by these heinous crimes,” a statement said.

“He assures all concerned that the Church will continue to follow this grave matter with the closest attention in order to understand better how these shameful events came to pass and how best to develop effective and secure strategies to prevent any recurrence.”

But abuse support group One in Four said it was disappointed with the response of Pope Benedict and that his reaction was inadequate and likely to cause further distress and frustration to the thousands of Irish people who are survivors of clerical sex abuse.

Executive director Maeve Lewis said survivors hoped for an apology for the culture of secrecy and cover-up and said he was as guilty as the Irish bishops of protecting the Church at the expense of vulnerable children.

“He must have been aware of the extent of the problem when, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he presided over the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith,” said Ms Lewis.

“The Pope’s response echoes that of the Irish bishops in attempting to focus blame for the destruction of countless lives on individual sex offending priests rather that accepting accountability for the role of the Catholic Church authorities in recklessly endangering children.”

The surviving sisters of Bernadette called for her death to be re-examined in the wake of the Murphy report.

Suspicions surrounding Fr Columba centred on his whereabouts at the time of the murder. It is suspected she was sexually assaulted before being killed.

The family of the cleric, who was with the Passionist Order, are said to also want the probe to prove his innocence.

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