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Editor's Viewpoint: Church has to stop covering up abuse


Father Malachy Finnegan

Father Malachy Finnegan

Father Malachy Finnegan

Dr John McAreavy, the Catholic Bishop of Dromore, has bowed to public pressure and resigned as the controversy over paedophile priest Fr Malachy Finnegan continues. As some of the victims of Fr Finnegan said, the bishop's position was untenable, given what he admitted he knew and the length of time it took him to take any meaningful action.

As the controversy developed and more revelations became public knowledge Bishop McAreavy was becoming a more and more central part of the story and that was causing more damage to the church. His resignation became inevitable, not for anything he did, but for what he did not do.

Given the number of sexual abuse scandals involving clergy which the Catholic church, not only in Ireland but worldwide, has had to own up to in recent years, it is unbelievable that the church still tried to bury its head in the sand for many years over this scandal.

Has it, and in this instance Bishop McAreavy, not learned that the public demands transparency when the safety of children is at stake?

According to victims - and theirs is the only evidence we have - Fr Finnegan's abhorrent behaviour was well known to the pupils at St Colman's College in Newry for many years. Yet according to a spokesman for the bishop he only became aware of one instance of abuse in 1994, when he was told about it by the then Bishop of Dromore.

In spite of that he officiated at the funeral mass for Fr Finnegan, who died in 2002, and two years earlier had celebrated mass alongside Fr Finnegan and several other priests. These were seen as grave errors of judgment on his part.

While the media storm created by this controversy undoubtedly played a big part in the decision of Bishop McAreavy to resign, he was also aware of the deep anger among those abused by Fr Finnegan and among parishioners and relatives of pupils at the college.

And it is still not clear why it took until 2011, nine years after the priest had died, for the bishop to ask a clerical abuse watchdog set up by the church to examine the cases involving Fr Finnegan.

Nor do we know why it took until 2017 for the board of governors at the school to be informed of the scandal.

The victims have gained a minor victory in forcing the bishop to resign, but they have still a long way to go to gain the justice denied to them so far.

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