Abuse priest’s family speak of ‘devastating’ effect on lives

Seán McCárthaigh

Julie Fortune, a sister-in-law of the dead priest, said the controversy had destroyed the childhood experiences of her four children, who had suffered regular taunts at school over the past number of years.

"We are carrying the sentence he should have got," she told RTÉ Radio 1's Liveline yesterday. Fr Fortune committed suicide in March 1999, shortly before he was due back in Wexford Circuit Court to face a series of charges relating to sexual offences committed on eight young boys in the parish of Poulfur, Co Wexford, over two decades.

Ms Fortune said her family felt "very angry" at being left to carry the stigma of their relative's abuse of children while serving as a priest in several parishes in the diocese of Ferns. The family has taken legal advice to see if it could initiate an action against people who had been abusive towards them. Ms Fortune said her three daughters and son had received counselling to help them cope with being called names since some local people become aware in the mid-1990s that they were related to the priest. "We are living with it every day and will continue to do so," said Ms Fortune.

She had "no doubt" that her brother-in-law, whom the family knew as John, was guilty of the crimes of which he was accused. "You would need to be a fool to think he was innocent," she remarked.

Ms Fortune said she and her husband, Tom, had repeatedly tried to convince Fr Fortune during his weekly visit to their home to face up to the consequences of his actions, although he consistently insisted there was no truth in the allegations against him.

"He denied everything to the day he died," she added. Ms Fortune said other people had mistakenly regarded such visits as her family offering support to the priest. She stressed that if any of her children had suffered abuse in a similar fashion to the priest's victims, she would have ended up "doing time."

However, Ms Fortune said she never feared for the safety of her own children when in the company of her brother-in-law. She pointed out that they had also seen another side of the priest a man who never forgot his nieces orand nephew on their birthdays or at Christmas.

Ms Fortune said her family only learnt after his death that Fr Fortune had suffered from hypermania a condition whereby sufferers experience extreme high and low mood swings.

She also blamed media coverage for adding to their hurt by publishing "a lot of mistruths" about the family. Ms Fortune explained that she had decided to talk publicly about their suffering because the families of sex offenders were rarely heard as they were "afraid to speak."

Ms Fortune said if she could have predicted the effect of the controversy on her children, she would have followed through on plans to emigrate to Australia 20 years ago.

Her husband, Tom Fr Fortune's younger brother said he remained angry at the priest for not having admitted his crimes from the start, some of which he described as "horrific."

"He would have saved us all an awful lot of hurt," said the Gorey businessman.

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