Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Bishop bares soul on how he caused hurt to his priests, failed to understand abuse victims and struggled to cope with the murder of Michaela McAreavey

Bishop John McAreavey with his nephew John McAreavey and wife Michaela on their wedding day
Bishop John McAreavey with his nephew John McAreavey and wife Michaela on their wedding day

Bishop Dr John McAreavey has admitted that he has failed many of his priests and that he has not always had the right attitude to the victims of clerical sexual abuse.

Asked if his primary response had been to protect the Church rather than the plight of the victim or survivor of abuse, he said: "There is no question of that. Yes. A number of times in the past year friends of mine have quoted back things to me I have said 10 or 15 years ago that they remember, that I have forgotten.

"It is no pride to me that I have made a long and difficult journey. I just didn't see this whole thing from the perspective of the victims."

Dr McAreavey made his comments in a frank interview with the Irish Catholic magazine conducted by Martin O'Brien, a leading Catholic commentator. It is Dr McAreavey's first public statement since returning from a seven-month sabbatical which took him to the Holy Land, China, Rome and a period of work as a parish priest in Los Angeles. Part of it was spent in solitary prayer in Israel's Negev desert.

"In a sense the whole sabbatical was a time in the desert, away from the usual supports, routines and friendships," he said.

Since he got back he has been doing the rounds of all 32 priests in his diocese to restore relations. He said he had apologised to some of them for writing letters to them that may have, unintentionally, been hurtful.

"At times I have written to priests either with a decision or a reaction to something and at times I have known later it was the worst thing to have done," he said.

"There have been times when I have hurt priests. I realised afterwards it would have been far better and more prudent to have talked and listened more."

He also admits to have "made assumptions" and "acting on information that was not necessarily wrong, but was incomplete".

"Obviously, where this has happened, I have apologised and I have gone to priests personally and said: 'Look, I have got that wrong and I am really sorry to have upset you," he said.

His lengthy sabbatical was unusual in Ireland, and at the time he said his family had experienced great sadness and tragedy and he had decided to undertake a period of personal renewal.

The interview suggests this was related to the unsolved murder of Michaela McAreavey, who was married to his nephew John and was killed on the couple's honeymoon in Mauritius.

He told Mr O'Brien he had experienced "a demanding year and a degree of personal strain" relating to the death of Michaela in January 2011 and to the lengthy illness and subsequent death of his mother in August 2012.

As a result he found his "energy was not what it should be" and is pleased and grateful that he is "refreshed physically, emotionally and spiritually".

Mr O'Brien said: "The bishop was very open and ready to admit fault, something which follows the example of Pope Francis. I wonder if this is a trend to openness which other members of the Irish hierarchy will follow."

BACKGROUND

When Dr John McAreavey, the Catholic Bishop of Dromore, announced that he was taking sabbatical leave a year ago there was speculation that he might retire, but he came back to Ireland in September as planned and has now resumed his duties.

The bishop officiated when his nephew John McAreavey married Michaela Harte in December 2010. Just a fortnight later, Bishop McAreavey also officiated at Michaela's funeral after she was murdered in Mauritius.

Two hotel workers were acquitted of her killing in July last year, less than four months before the bishop took leave.

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