A parish priest has said he “deeply regrets” that Catholic Church authorities did not tell him about the lurid past of a cleric they placed under his roof.
Fr Declan Boland insisted he would not have allowed Fr John McCullagh to live in the parochial house in Strabane if he had known about his secret payment to an alleged abuse victim.
His thoughts on the scandal emerged came as he addressed parishioners during Mass in the Co Tyrone town yesterday afternoon.
Earlier this month the Belfast Telegraph revealed how Fr McCullagh had paid £12,000 to a woman who claimed she was abused by him.
It has since emerged that the disgraced cleric had been placed in Strabane’s parochial house by diocesan authorities in 2001.
The current whereabouts of Fr McCullagh — who Fr Boland confirmed has now moved out of the parochial house — are not known.
Before ending Mass yesterday, Fr Boland read a short statement to parishioners in which he spoke of his personal distress at the events.
Fr Boland said he had been unaware of the full details of Fr McCullagh’s past. When they did emerge, he said he had acted “swiftly and decisively”.
People listened in silence during the three-minute address, which began with details of how Fr McCullagh came to live at the parochial house.
He said Fr McCullagh had been offered accommodation there by the former parish priest, and he had used it “from time to time”.
“This arrangement was still in place when I became the parish priest in September 1999 and remained so until April 2001, when I was asked by the Bishop of Derry, Fr Hegarty, if this could become permanent,” he told the congregation.
Fr Boland said he was familiar with Fr McCullagh’s circumstances “only to the extent of knowledge available in the public forum”.
“If information that has come to light in the past 10 days had been available to me then, my response would have been quite different, with a very different outcome.
“It’s a matter of deep regret that I was not more fully informed by diocesan authorities.
“I now find myself, as the parish priest, having to deal with and handle a problem, and deal with a situation, which I should never have had to deal with — a situation not of my making.
“However, in the circumstances in which I have found myself in, I have acted swiftly and decisively — an action that for me was personally very distressing as an aged and frail brother priest was involved.
“Having consulted with the parish pastoral council and the Bishop of Derry, the conclusion has been reached that Fr McCullagh’s residency at the parochial house in Strabane is now over.”
Fr Boland said he appreciated the trust and confidence which parishioners had placed in him.
“I have always told you the truth,” he added. “In this matter, I am telling you the full truth and I will continue to tell you the truth in the future.
“I deeply appreciate the overwhelming support I have received from you in the past number of days and I ask you to hold me in your hearts and prayers.”