Belfast Telegraph

Church sex abuse scandals made me question my faith, says bishop

Bishop John McAreavey
Bishop John McAreavey
Malachy Finnegan
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

Bishop John McAreavey says sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have "challenged his faith" - and has revealed that three more victims of paedophile priest Malachy Finnegan have come forward since a TV programme aired earlier this month.

During an interview on the Church's handling of Finnegan's behaviour, the Bishop of Dromore said he was "not going to hide away" after a BBC Spotlight programme painted him in a "negative" light.

He told the Newry Reporter that he would not step down, but was instead keen to "rebuild confidence and trust" in the Church, and would fully cooperate with a public inquiry into clerical abuse. A total of 12 allegations were made against the late Fr Finnegan, who worked at St Colman's College from 1967 to 1987.

The Diocese of Dromore reached a settlement with victims in October 2017, but details only emerged a fortnight ago.

In 2002 Bishop McAreavey said Finnegan's Requiem Mass, despite being aware of abuse allegations.

He told the newspaper he had felt "conflicted" about officiating at the funeral service.

"I made a decision not to say one word of praise or acknowledgement of his ministry, so in a sense that was how I felt I was balancing the conflict that was in my mind about it," he said.

However, after meeting one of Finnegan's victims he said he realised his presence was "simply a mistake" and hadn't been intended to "honour" the child abuser.

He revealed that Finnegan hadn't confessed his child abuse to him, but described a financial settlement which he made to his first victim as "a very clear admission" of guilt.

He said that be believed Finnegan "did concede" his guilt to the Church when the second victim came forward.

The clergyman claimed that the RUC had failed to act on information given to it in 1997 by one of Finnegan's victims.

In 2005 Dr McAreavey said he told Social Services of Finnegan's behaviour, but was advised not to make any names public.

In 2010 he wrote to the National Board for Safeguarding Children during an audit into allegations against priests in the diocese between 1975 and 2011. He asked the auditors to review the cases of three deceased priests, including Finnegan.

Dr McAreavey took over as bishop in 1999, and called his predecessor's failure to release a public statement on Finnegan's abuse "a gross error".

"I want to engage with people and I hope that that trust that was there will be built up again," he said.

"Yes, it does present challenges to my faith.

"But when I look at the work of our priests in general, I am really proud of what they do."

Dr McAreavey said that when he became bishop he allowed his predecessor's arrangements to stand, and that he received "no guidance from the Church" on how to deal with the situation.

He claimed he had been "on the point" of naming Finnegan "several times over the years".

Dr McAreavey said he didn't have an "exact figure" for the compensation paid by his diocese to abuse victims during his time as bishop. He disputed reports that a further 12 allegations were pending against Finnegan, and said the actual number of people who had come forward was "much smaller".

When asked why Finnegan hadn't been defrocked before his death, Dr McAreavey said that in 2000 he "was beginning to suffer the onset of dementia".

Finnegan was admitted to a nursing home in 2001 and died in early 2002.

A disturbing case

Father Malachy Finnegan was employed at St Colman's College in Newry from 1967 to 1987. He was a teacher from 1973-76 and president from 1976-1987.

The cleric was transferred to Clonduff as parish priest in January 1988.

A previous statement by Bishop McAreavey said that the first allegation against Finnegan came to light in 1994, and the priest retired a year later.

The second allegation came in 1998 and was not related to Finnegan's tenure at St Colman's. No further allegations emerged until after the paedophile priest's death in January 2002.

Three victims of Finnegan - Paul Gimore, Sean Faloon and another man - spoke about the abuse on BBC's Spotlight.

One victim said a nun told him that "God will eventually forgive you".

Dr McAreavey described the victim's comment on the programme as "shocking".

Belfast Telegraph


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