Why a diocese agreed to have a priest’s tombstone demolished
How can the Church purge the demonic evil of child abuse from the priesthood? And how can dioceses examine allegations in a way that’s fair to the survivors and the accused? These questions, which have been forced back into public attention by the case of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (, are playing out in dioceses across the world. And earlier this month, they received a vivid answer in the graveyard of St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, where a man took a sledgehammer to a six-year-old tombstone.
The headstone – its destruction was filmed and can be seen on the BBC website – belonged to Canon Dermod Fogarty, a popular priest and canon lawyer in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton. At his funeral in 2012, there were lengthy tributes. Canon Fogarty was described as a “wonderful priest” by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who said: “All of you here and countless others have been touched by such a good person because Canon Dermod fulfilled what every priest had to do.”
But a few weeks before Fogarty’s death, the diocese had received allegations, from the Oxford academic Stephen Bernard, that Fogarty had abused him. The police had also received the allegations in 2015. And this year they became public, in Bernard’s widely reviewed memoir Paper Cuts. Bernard wrote that he had been abused by Fogarty from the age of 11, in 300 separate attacks between 1987 and 1991. The abuse lawyer Richard Scorer, speaking to the BBC, described the accusations as “extremely serious and extremely credible”.
To Deirdre McCormack, Fogarty’s closest surviving relative, the allegations were compelling. She is herself an abuse survivor, and reading Paper Cuts persuaded her of the truth of the stories about her relative. She told the Midhurst and Petworth Observer: “If you haven’t been there, you can’t make it up. I want to do what I can to help Dr Bernard move on with his life.”
That made the tombstone she had ordered, inscribed “A wise priest much loved by his family and all who knew him”, intolerable. McCormack told the BBC: “I can’t live with something that I had erected that tells such a blatant lie.”
After the BBC report, the diocese agreed to have the tombstone demolished, and to replace it with a plain stone.
The diocese have not said much about the incident, and did not respond to a request to comment. In March they told the BBC: “The diocese was already aware of the allegations made by Dr Bernard in his book Paper Cuts. The diocese first received Dr Bernard’s allegation on 6 September 2012 and responded in accordance with the Church’s national procedures; a member of the diocesan safeguarding office met with Mr Bernard on 10 September 2012.”
The statement said the diocese was “aware that Dr Bernard reported his complaint to the police in 2015 and the diocese is committed to cooperation with the statutory agencies”.
But McCormack has said they should not have held the funeral in the light of what Bernard had told them. The demolition of the headstone, she believes, is just part of doing justice to what happened, and righting the wrongs of honouring Fogarty’s memory.
The diocese’s agreement over demolishing the headstone might seem like a tacit acceptance of Bernard’s claims. But we still await an official response.