Belfast Telegraph

Father Finnegan abuse is a dark cloud on Newry school

Editor's Viewpoint

St Colman's College in Newry is one of the most respected Catholic schools in the province with a fine educational and sporting reputation.

News that the Catholic Church has settled a claim that the former president (principal) of the school, Fr Malachy Finnegan, sexually abused a pupil will have shocked parents, pupils and staff.

A total of 12 claims of sexual abuse were levelled at Fr Finnegan, although it is not clear when or where those incidents are said to have occurred.

Given the Catholic Church's past record on dealing with claims of sexual abuse by its clergy, it is unfortunate that there has not been greater transparency on the alleged offences committed by Fr Finnegan, who died in 2002.

Yet the obvious regret and sorrow of the present Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, at what happened is to be welcomed.

He is right to describe any abuse of pupils as abhorrent, indefensible and inexcusable, and his admission that he made an error of judgement in officiating at Fr Finnegan's funeral while abuse allegations were hanging over the priest should be accepted as genuine remorse.

Fr Finnegan was never prosecuted and it was nine years after his death that Bishop McAreavey asked the National Board for Safeguarding Children - a clerical abuse watchdog body set up by the Church - to examine the allegations.

The watchdog noted that Bishop McAreavey had reported every allegation of sexual abuse brought to his notice after his elevation to the post in 1999 and that is a welcome indication of his desire to ensure that victims' voices are heard and their complaints investigated.

The Board of Governors have also issued a strongly-worded statement condemning the actions of Fr Finnegan and moved to literally airbrush him from the history of the college by removing his image from all school photographs.

Yet it will take more than that to erase the memory of what occurred there 30 years ago. As Bishop McAreavey noted, abuse is a crime which keeps on afflicting the victim, causing hurt which may never be healed. The impact of the abuse allegations will also be felt by current and former staff members.

Hopefully all the outstanding cases will be brought to a conclusion swiftly so that the college and church can rebuild the trust which has been so grievously damaged by this disgraced former principal.

Belfast Telegraph

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