Mary McAleese's little brother was sadistically abused by paedophile priest
Former Irish president calls for inquiry into the scandal
Mary McAleese has revealed that her youngest brother was "sadistically" abused by Father Malachy Finnegan - and joined demands for an independent inquiry.
In an emotional interview, the former Irish president told how her brother, Clem Leneghan, was abused by the paedophile priest throughout his time at St Colman’s College in Newry — and said complaints against the cleric had been made as far back as the 1970s.
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“My baby brother, the youngest of nine children, was seriously physically, sadistically abused by Malachy Finnegan,” she said.
Clem Leneghan (49) first told of his torment at the school in a recent letter to this newspaper.
Mrs McAleese said: “My own mother had to discover this just three weeks ago, by reading it in the Belfast Telegraph.”
Mr Leneghan, a film and TV production safety consultant now based in England, wrote: “Malachy Finnegan was a sadist.
“Throughout my seven years as a pupil at St Colman’s in the 1980s, something rotten was allowed to fester at the core of that school — I saw it every day.”
Mr Leneghan was not sexually abused.
Ms McAleese, originally from north Belfast, said knowledge of the abuse was widely known.
“As he (her brother) pointed out, so many people had to have known,” she remarked.
“So many people who were in the school had to have known, so many people who could have done something about it.
“We know now that the first, the very first complaints, go back to the 1970s — not the 1990s at all, but go back to the 1970s which means there is a body of information that was well known to people that were in a position to do something about it — but didn’t,” she added.
Ms McAleese described her brother as “wonderful, beautiful”, adding: “As you can imagine, as the youngest of a family, (he was) so incredibly loved by all of us.”
Speaking on RTE’s Sean O’Rourke programme, Ms McAleese said she had always felt her brothers could tell her anything, but that a climate of fear meant her youngest sibling felt unable to be open about his time at the school in the 1980s.
Four out of her five brothers attended St Colman’s, she said.
Ms McAleese, who was Irish president between 1997 and 2011, said that both the school and the Church had huge questions to answer. “Who knew what and when?” she asked.
“An independent inquiry is warranted,” she added.
Ms McAleese also called on Pope Francis to visit Newry if he comes to Ireland next August in light of the revelations.
Former Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey resigned from his post on March 1 after coming under fire for celebrating mass with Finnegan in 2000, as well as officiating over his funeral in 2002, despite knowing he had abused children.
The diocesan spokesperson also stood down amid the furore, which followed a financial settlement reached by the Catholic Church with one of Finnegan’s victims in October. Disgraced cleric Finnegan, who was president at St Colman’s College for 11 years before moving to Clonduff as parish priest in 1988, died in 2002. He has been linked to a string of abuse allegations against children, including sexual and physical attacks.
Claire McKeegan from KRW Law welcomed Ms McAleese’s intervention. She said: “The victims and survivors today repeat their call for a Public Inquiry into clerical abuse in Northern Ireland and welcome the statement of Former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese in support.
“We again ask that the Secretary of State for NI and local politicians make a public commitment to support the victims in their call for an investigation without any delay, and extend the same invitation to Archbishop Eamon Martin.” Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International also called again for a public inquiry and said: “We extend our solidarity to Mrs McAleese’s family at this time of great pain for them and many other families. Sadly, the Father Finnegan abuse scandal is not an isolated case.”
A spokesperson for the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said: “Bishops met with the chair and CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. Irrespective of improved standards, vigilance and greater awareness, bishops agreed that the Church can never become complacent concerning the safeguarding of children.
“Bishops reflected on the immense suffering caused to children and vulnerable persons by abuse.
“They emphasised the shared responsibilities of Church and statutory authorities for prompt reporting, robust risk assessment, concrete action to prevent further abuse, and meaningful outreach to victims in support of the healing process and to assist their search for justice.
“Bishops reiterated their commitment to both the review process of dioceses undertaken by the National Board and their full cooperation with any inquiry required by statutory bodies.”
A spokesperson for St Colman’s College reissued an earlier statement from the Board of Governors which said the school will cooperate fully with any investigation.
St Colman’s College declined to comment, but reissued an earlier statement which said: “The school will cooperate fully with any investigation regarding Malachy Finnegan by regulatory and statutory authorities. This is the most suitable mechanism to address these issues.
“Given that the PSNI has established a Victims’ Unit to investigate these matters, and that there may be a potential public inquiry and further civil proceedings, it would be inappropriate for the Board to make any further comment.
“The Board reiterates its advice that anyone who has been a victim of Malachy Finnegan’s abuse should bring this to the attention of the PSNI.”