Call for inquiry as bishop McAreavey steps down in wake of scandal over paedophile priest
The resignation of Bishop John McAreavey amid growing controversy over the Catholic Church's handling of a paedophile priest must be followed by an inquiry, a lawyer for Fr Malachy Finnegan’s victims has said.
The bishop, who conducted Finnegan’s 2002 funeral, will stand down with “immediate effect”.
Disgraced cleric Finnegan has been accused of sexual abuse by 12 people.
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He was a teacher at St Colman’s College in Newry from 1967 to 1976 and president there for 11 years before being transferred to Clonduff as parish priest in January 1988. He died 16 years ago.
He has been linked to a catalogue of physical and emotional abuse against pupils.
Dr McAreavey, the Bishop of Dromore, had known about allegations of child abuse against the disgraced cleric as far back as the mid-1990s.
News of Dr McAreavey’s resignation came in a statement released by his solicitors late yesterday afternoon.
He said: “Following media reports which have disturbed and upset many people in the Diocese and further afield I have decided to resign with immediate effect. I shall make further comment in due course”.
Amnesty International said the scale of the revelations meant a full inquiry was necessary, and called on Secretary of State Karen Bradley to make it happen.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director, said: “The Fr Finnegan abuse scandal is horrifying but is not an isolated case.
“Rather, it is yet another example of how paedophile priests appear to have been facilitated by the Church authorities in continuing their vile abuse.
“It is just the latest example of how the Church authorities prioritised the protection of reputation over the protection of children.
“The police and state authorities also have serious questions to answer, in this and in other cases, with regards to their apparent failure to adequately investigate very serious allegations and intervene to bring the alleged abuse to an end.”
Solicitor Claire McKeegan, of KRW Law, who represents a number of Finnegan’s victims, said she had received calls from numerous further witnesses since a settlement by one of her clients was made public recently.
She added: “The message is clear: victims demand a public inquiry into clerical abuse in Northern Ireland without any further delay.
“The victims and survivors deserve to speak about the horrific abuse that took place and be heard in a public forum tasked with sufficient powers to get to the truth.
“This case has brought to the surface yet another paedophile priest who was never investigated or exposed by the Church or the police.”
SDLP South Down MLA Sinead Bradley said: “I welcome the decision by Bishop McAreavey to resign today.
“This was the right thing to do.
“My thoughts are primarily with the victims, but also with the wider community that has been deeply hurt.”
Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed how Dr McAreavey had met parents from a Co Down primary school who, along with families from other schools, said they did not want him to officiate at their children’s confirmations.
Even before the parents of children from St Patrick’s Primary School in Hilltown, Carrick Primary School in Burren and St Patrick’s in Mayobridge voiced their concerns, Bishop McAreavey admitted that he had made “an error of judgment”, and described Finnegan’s actions as “abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible”.
Allegations about Finnegan, who worked at St Colman’s for 20 years, were highlighted in a recent BBC Spotlight programme.
However, the first complaint against him came to light in 1994 when a victim reported details of abuse to the Diocese of Dromore.
Confusion has arisen over exactly when allegations about Finnegan were passed on to police, with the PSNI saying that complaints were not passed on until 2006.
One victim, Sean Faloon from Hilltown, told officers in Newry he had been abused in 1996, although he did not make a formal complaint. He told Church officials two years later.
Last night the PSNI confirmed that since the Spotlight programme, it had received eight new complaints against Finnegan.
The Diocese of Dromore was aware of 10 complaints against Finnegan before the programme aired, and has received three more complaints since, a spokesman confirmed. The Diocese has passed sex abuse allegations to the PSNI about 11 members of the clergy since 2006, the spokesman added.