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Pope accepts resignation of Irish bishop on health grounds

Three years ago William Lee apologised for not withdrawing a priest accused of sexual abuse from ministry immediately.

Former Bishop William Lee at a conference in Maynooth in 2009.
Former Bishop William Lee at a conference in Maynooth in 2009.
Image: Eamonnn Farrell/ Photocall Ireland

Updated: 13:52

POPE FRANCIS HAS accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop who said he was stepping down for poor health.

William Lee, the bishop of Waterford and Lismore, said he had resigned on health grounds, having been diagnosed with a “serious illness” in 2011.

“Recently the medical advice to me has been that, in the interests of my health, I should retire from the office of Bishop of Waterford and Lismore,” he said in a statement.

“Accordingly, I have in the past few weeks submitted my letter of resignation as Bishop of Waterford and Lismore to Pope Francis. The Holy Father has considered my request and graciously accepted my resignation.”

“It is with reluctance and sadness that I have come to this decision to retire as I have been very happy and blessed amongst you the priests, religious and people of the diocese,” he added.

The Holy See said in a brief statement that Lee was relieved of his functions under paragraph 2 of article 401 of the Code of Canon Law, which covers both serious offenses such as paedophilia and corruption, and resignations on health grounds.

Public apology

The  bishop publicly apologised three years ago for his handling of a complaint of clerical sex abuse, saying that his response to allegations in the mid-1990s was “seriously inadequate”.

Faced with a claim of abuse by a priest in his diocese, Lee arranged for the man to undergo a specialist assessment but did not remove him from ministry until 1995.

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“I particularly regretted that I had not sought the immediate withdrawal of the priest from all ministry and that others associated with the new ministry were not informed that allegations had been made,” Lee said at the time. “I sincerely apologise and am deeply sorry for the inadequacies of my earlier actions in this case.”

A report published this year by an independent body found that Lee’s diocese  met the expected standards and that personnel were “actively engaged in ensuring full implementation” of safeguards for children.

- With additional reporting from AFP.

An earlier version of this article from a wire service contained an error that has now been amended.

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