Belfast Telegraph

Paedophile priest's victims demand a public inquiry into clerical abuse

Survivors also want probe into Church's failings over scandal investigate Church's failings

By Claire O'Boyle

Victims of paedophile priest Malachy Finnegan have come together to demand a public inquiry into clerical abuse, as well as a police investigation into failings by the Catholic Church.

As the fallout from the scandal continues, victims have called for support from politicians and church leaders in their fight for justice.

Their demands came hours after the Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, resigned amid controversy over his decision to officiate at the funeral Mass of Finnegan.

One survivor, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "I feel a huge sense of relief that it's out because I knew there would be others like me.

"I feel personally that there's now an explanation for some friends and family as to why I am the way I am. I had shut it away for 40 years and now I want answers and apologies and I want someone to put it right."

Another said: "If the Church mean this rhetoric they are coming out with now and they want survivors and parents in the schools to trust them, they should also be calling for a public inquiry and putting their weight behind it and giving forward every single document they have."

A government spokesperson said any decision on a public inquiry was a "devolved" issue and must be decided by a restored Executive at Stormont, and not Secretary of State Karen Bradley.

She said: "This Government has always been very clear in its outright condemnation of any form of abuse of children. The Secretary of State urges anyone with information relating to the abuse of children or young people to contact the PSNI.

"The issues at play here are devolved, and it should be for a restored Executive to decide on the right way forward."

Yesterday's heartfelt calls from victims came amid a series of dramatic developments, which saw:

• The PSNI launch a special task force to investigate "clerical and institutional abuse" involving Finnegan;

• Dr McAreavey lose his position as chairman of education body CCMS - an automatic move as he is no longer Bishop of Dromore; and

• St Colman's College in Newry, where Finnegan worked for 20 years, pledges to "co-operate fully" with any investigation into the abuse.

Lawyers for some of the victims also confirmed they would be lodging a complaint with the PSNI over the Church's handling of the matter.

Solicitor Claire McKeegan from KRW Law said survivors had felt "a huge sense of relief and vindication" following Dr McAreavey's resignation, but said it was simply a "first step" towards the truth.

She said: "There is evidence that the Church were aware of Malachy Finnegan's criminal acts when he was still alive and as such they had a duty to refer this information to the then RUC.

"We have been instructed that in 1994 the then Bishop of Dromore, Francis Brooks, was advised of allegations of abuse and asked the current Bishop of Dromore to assist in a pastoral capacity. Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 requires such referrals to be made within reasonable time.

"We will be lodging a complaint to the PSNI in this regard on behalf of our clients."

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, 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, he brought his allegation to the diocese.

In a statement, the PSNI said it had not received a report from the diocese relating to Finnegan until 2006 and confirmed eight new complaints against him have been reported in recent weeks.

The Diocese of Dromore was aware of 10 allegations against Finnegan before a recent BBC Spotlight programme brought his crimes to the public. They have been told about three more since, a spokesman said.

Detective Superintendent Deirdre Bones from the PSNI Public Protection Branch said: "The PSNI has set up a dedicated team to investigate complaints of clerical and institutional abuse involving Father Malachy Finnegan. I would appeal to anyone who has been the victim of physical or sexual abuse to report it to the Public Protection Branch in PSNI, who will deal with their reports sensitively and confidentially."

SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley said: "We must all do our part to ensure that victims of abuse, wherever it occurs, receive truth, justice and accountability for the wrongs committed against them."

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said: "When an organisation like a church and its senior leaders like Bishop McAreavey are seen to react to public pressure rather than taking the initiative they have clearly lost moral authority and on that basis a public inquiry becomes both desirable and inevitable."

Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International NI added: "McAreavey's resignation has got to be the start, not the end. When the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry was being set up, we called for clerical abuse in the community, in schools and churches, to be part of that. The abuse goes much further than one man and we need to reach out and appeal to get other victims to come forward. There was a clear modus operandi employed by the Catholic Church, and it needs to be examined. An investigation team within the PSNI is welcome, but a public inquiry is essential to cover every aspect of what happened."

A spokesperson for the Board of Governors of St Colman's reiterated its condemnation "in the strongest terms the abuse inflicted by Malachy Finnegan and is devastated that any pupil who was entrusted to the care of St Colman's College should ever have suffered abuse".

It added: "The school will co-operate fully with any inquiry into historic abuse by Malachy Finnegan."

The Diocese of Dromore confirmed Canon Liam Stevenson would be stepping in to the senior role on a temporary basis, until a permanent replacement for Dr McAreavey is selected.

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