Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland priest warned to 'get out of town' amid fallout from deceased cleric abuse scandal

By Staff Reporter

A parish priest in Co Down has been warned to 'get out of town' in a threatening anonymous letter.

Fr Charles Byrne told parishioners at Mass in the village of Hilltown yesterday about the threat he had received in the wake of recent revelations about child sex abuse by a priest in the Dromore diocese.

The paedophile priest, Fr Malachy Finnegan, died in 2002.

Victims say the parochial house in Hilltown was used as a venue for the abuse of children by Finnegan, who was at one time the parish priest.

It's understood clerics no longer use the property for overnight stays.

Fr Byrne - who was appointed to the parish late last year - told parishioners yesterday that the police were aware of the abusive and threatening correspondence, having been contacted by his solicitor.

This comes after the resignation of the local bishop, Dr John McAreavey, who quit after information emerged about Finnegan's years of abusive behaviour - and how much the church authorities knew about it,

Dr McAreavey officiated at Fr Finnegan's Requiem Mass in early 2002, despite being aware of serious abuse allegations.

Dr McAreavey, who was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Dromore in 1999, said his predecessor's failure to make a public statement on Finnegan's abuse was a "gross error".

He admitted that when he took up the position he allowed those arrangements to stand.

Disgraced cleric Finnegan has been linked to a string of abuse allegations, including sexual and physical attacks.

The first allegation was reported to the Diocese of Dromore in 1994.

A second report was made to police in 1996, although the victim, Sean Faloon, who was just 17 at the time, did not submit a formal complaint.

Two years later, in 1998, Mr Faloon brought his allegation to the diocese.

There is no suggestion that Fr Byrne is in any way involved in the scandal that has rocked the diocese.

Fr Byrne could not be reached for comment last night.

Belfast Telegraph

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