Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Calls for Catholic Church to reveal where disgraced priest is

Pressure is mounting on the Catholic church to to reveal the whereabouts of disgraced priest Fr John McCullagh following his removal from the parish where he had been living since 2001.

Yesterday it was revealed that Fr McCullagh is to be moved out of the parochial house in Strabane.

Parish priest Fr Declan Boland, who also lives in the parochial house, said he had not been made aware of the extent of the allegations against Fr McCullagh when he moved in.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed Fr McCullagh paid £12,000 to a woman who claimed she was abused by him.

Fr Boland said he feels compromised, and has spoken to the Bishop Dr Seamus Hegarty about the issue.

Independent councillor on Strabane District Council, Gerard Foley said moving Fr McCullagh without informing people throws up more problems.

He said: “Moving Fr McCullagh is not the solution and actually only adds to the problems.

“Derry Diocese covers two jurisdictions which brings its own possible problems if a case goes to court. This is true whether it is a priest or not.

“But as well as that the church must not forget the duty it has to the children in whatever parish it places Fr McCullagh.

“The church should do the right thing and give people all the information it has.

“Fr Boland is showing true leadership here which is typical of him.”

In an interview with the BBC Fr Boland said that when he spoke to Bishop Hegarty recently he “agreed with me that Fr McCullagh’s position here was neither feasible, possible or appropriate”.

Fr Boland also made clear that had never been told of the serious nature of the allegations against Fr McCullagh and that he now feels he had been “kept in the dark” and that he also felt “compromised’’ by the situation.

Fr McCullagh, who was stood down from active ministry by Bishop Hegarty in 1995, paid £12,000 and wrote a letter of apology to a woman who accused him of sexually abusing her when she was eight years of age for ten years.

Fr McCullagh was taken out of active ministry by Bishop Hegarty and moved to Strabane in 2001 where he was forbidden from saying public mass or from wearing his priest’s garb.

Fr Boland said that when Fr McCullagh came to Strabane he only had general information that there had been an allegation, and there had been an out of court settlement without admission of liability.

He added: “Now it has been revealed that things were a lot different than that and more serious.

“I wasn’t aware of the background of the case. If I had been my reaction would have been different.

“I would have been saying it was inappropriate to have Fr McCullagh here because of the negative image it would have portrayed.

“I feel I was kept in the dark. I feel frustrated that information from the authorities was withheld from me.

“Now I find myself having to handle a problem and deal with a situation I should never have had to deal with.”

Fr Boland confirmed that on Sunday he will tell his congregation all he knows about the situation now.

He said: “The rumour mill grinds quickly and people get the wrong end of things.

“I will address the issue and give them (his congregation) the specifics of the case, outline where I am in it.

“We certainly owe it to them.”

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