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Fr John McCullagh sex abuse cover-up should be investigated by Pope Francis' tribunal, says Amnesty

By Donna Deeney

Published 17/06/2015

Father John McCullagh September 1981
Father John McCullagh September 1981
Patrick Corrigan

A cover-up of the sexual abuse of an eight-year-old girl by pervert priest Fr John McCullagh exposed by the Belfast Telegraph is part of a call by Amnesty International for a government inquiry in Northern Ireland.

The human rights organisation reacted to the Vatican's announcement that it would set up a tribunal to investigate bishops who failed to protect children by saying the Northern Ireland Executive must do likewise.

In 2010, this paper revealed how McCullagh, now deceased, had sexually abused a Londonderry girl for 10 years.

It was further revealed that the former Bishop of Derry, Seamus Hegarty, was party to an out-of-court settlement by McCullagh, which included forcing his victim to sign a document forbidding her to make public the abuse or the meagre payment she received in compensation.

Similar deals drafted by former Cardinal and Archbishop of Armagh Sean Brady in 1975, and signed by two victims of the notorious paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth, also need to be examined, according to Amnesty.

The group pointed to the findings of an audit carried out by the Catholic Church's child protection watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children, into the Derry Diocese from 1974 to 2011 that was very critical of the way Bishop Hegarty and his predecessor Bishop Edward Daly handled abuse allegations.

Bishop Hegarty announced his retirement through ill-health just three weeks before the report was published.

Amnesty International Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan gave a cautious welcome to the Vatican's announcement and cited the behaviour of Bishop Hegarty and Cardinal Brady to call for an NI Executive tribunal.

He said: "To the extent that the Vatican is finally taking steps to deliver a measure of accountability for child victims who were cruelly abused by priests and colossally betrayed by bishops, their announcement of a tribunal merits a cautious welcome.

"However, as Catholic Primate Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin has acknowledged, an in-house church tribunal is no substitute for the state's criminal justice system, which, to date, has not held any church leader accountable before the law for their actions in cases of child abuse. This is despite what we know in terms of church leaders' failure to report criminal activity to the police on both sides of the border, and bishops choosing to move abusive priests across the border, enabling them to evade justice and leaving them free to abuse more children.

"That is why Amnesty International now repeats our call for the Northern Ireland Executive to establish a public inquiry into the scale and the circumstances of clerical child abuse in this jurisdiction.

"To date, Northern Ireland's clerical abuse victims have been let down, not just by the church, but by Executive ministers who have done nothing to help."

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