A prominent former Catholic priest has urged the church in Derry to take “radical action” to restore public faith following revelations that a priest in the diocese paid £12,000 in a secret deal with a victim of abuse.
Denis Bradley has also said that the current “tsunami” facing the church has caught up with Bishop of Derry Dr Seamus Hegarty, who knew about the out-of-court settlement.
Mr Bradley said he was “sickened” when he learnt of the allegations against Fr John McCullagh.
The Belfast Telegraph submitted a series of questions to Dr Hegarty earlier this week about his handling of the allegations against disgraced priest Fr McCullagh. So far the Bishop has not responded.
The questions the Belfast Telegraph submitted to the Bishop of Derry are:
- Has Bishop Hegarty addressed the faithful in any parish to explain his handling of the allegations against Fr J McCullagh since the story was revealed in the Belfast Telegraph?
- Did Bishop Hegarty tell the faithful, the priests or religious in Strabane about the allegations against Fr J McCullagh before he moved him into their parish?
- Does Fr J McCullagh continue to receive a stipend or any money from diocesan funds?
- Did Fr J McCullagh continue to say mass at the Convent of Mercy in Strabane after Bishop Hegarty banned him from saying public mass?
Dr Hegarty’s media spokesman Fr Michael Canny confirmed to this paper that the bishop had received the questions.
He said: “I have printed out the questions you sent and have placed them on the bishop’s desk. I can do no more.”
Denis Bradley, also a former vice-chairman of the Policing Board, said: “The church is facing a tsunami and Bishop Hegarty is caught up in that tsunami and there are only two positions to take.
“One, is that all bishops appointed before a certain date should resign and the other is for them to come up with some sort of model or forum which allows the laity, at least for some time, to address this tsunami.”
He added: “I am not yet convinced that the Vatican knows the extent of the damage that has been done and that needs to be addressed.
“All bishops have to ask questions that go beyond their own wellbeing and natural defensiveness. There needs to be radical action to address this that will give healing to the victims.
“The real moral authority now lies with the laity.”
He added: “What has sickened and saddened me most is that no one thought to tell us that Fr McCullagh had this cloud over him.”
“Now, I don’t know if he is guilty or not but we had the right to look out for our children, make sure they were safe and not in danger.
“That was the least the bishop owed us. Did he not think he had a duty of care to the children of Strabane, did they not matter?”
Parish priest Fr Declan Boland has also revealed that he “had been kept in the dark” about the serious nature of the allegations against Fr McCullagh.
Fr McCullagh is no longer living at the Barrack Street address, however his current whereabouts remain a mystery.