Northern Ireland bishop's health problem prompts resignation

.- Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Bishop Seamus Hegarty from the Diocese of Derry in Northern Ireland for health reasons, effective Nov. 23.

“The Holy Father has very kindly considered my letter, along with the medical reports provided by experts, and today graciously accepted my resignation,” the retiring bishop said in a statement released by the Derry diocese.

Bishop Hegarty, 71, had offered his resignation to the Pope due to a health condition he said was “assessed to render me unable to fulfill the obligations of my office as Diocesan Bishop.” Bishops must offer their resignation at age 75, but are encouraged to take the step earlier under certain conditions.

The bishop revealed on Nov. 7 that he was being treated for an “irreversible and progressive” illness.

“I would ask for prayers that the Holy Spirit may guide the selection of the new Bishop of Derry,” Bishop Hegarty said in his announcement.

“On a personal level, I would entrust my health to the prayers of the people of the diocese.”

Ordained a priest in 1966, Bishop Hegarty became the Bishop of Raphoe in the spring of 1982. He took up his position as the Bishop of Derry in November 1994.

A report on the handling of sex abuse by clergy in the Diocese of Raphoe, spanning several decades that include Bishop Hegarty's term of leadership, has been completed and is awaiting publication. He has declared his support for the inquiry, and urged prosecution of those who committed abuse.

Northern Irish Member of Parliament Mark Durkan, former leader of the country's Social Democratic and Labour Party, praised the retired bishop in comments to BBC News on Nov. 7.

Durkan said Bishop Hegarty had a “particular passion” for education, and had “always impressed” him as “someone who is straight-talking and hard-working with a keen and active interest in the whole range of public affairs.”

With his resignation, Derry becomes the fourth Irish diocese without a bishop. The bishops of Cloyne, Kildare and Leighlin, and Limerick have resigned during that time and have not yet been replaced.

Ireland also currently has no apostolic nuncio as of September 2011. The Vatican recalled and reassigned its representative after Ireland's prime minister accused the Holy See of trying to cover up abuse cases. The Vatican’s spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said those claims are untrue and the accusations show the Irish government does not understand how canon law works.

A group of eight priests will elect a member of the clergy as the Diocesan Administrator of Derry, while the diocese waits for the appointment of a new bishop.

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