Belfast Telegraph

The revelations about child abuse are insult to memory of St Patrick

By Alf McCreary

This is St Patrick's Day, and one hopes that people will celebrate wisely rather than too well. It is a sad irony that some of the greatest drunkenness and disorder from students takes place in what we call the "Holy Land" area of Belfast.

There is nothing holy about such self-indulgent behaviour, or about the blatantly sectarian way in which St Patrick has been hijacked by some die-hard republicans on the edges of the various parades.

St Patrick is the patron saint of Protestants as well, and hard-line republicans who use the Irish flag in the name of St Patrick ought to remember that. So much for Sinn Fein's hollow mantra about "respect."

St Patrick, that austere, godly and lovable fifth-century saint, would be distressed by the deep divisions in our society today, and he would be particularly saddened by the shadow which hangs over one major denomination of the Christian Church he established in Ireland so long ago.

He might also be distressed by the secularisation of society, but he would be most deeply hurt by the continued scandal of clerical child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

This has surfaced again recently with the revelations of the evil and heinous abuse by the paedophile Newry priest Fr Malachy Finnegan on Church premises in the Dromore Diocese and in St Colman's College where he had been a teacher and, for 11 years, the President.

This scandal only became public recently after it emerged that the diocese had paid a six-figure sum in compensation to one of the abuse victims.

One bizarre aspect was that the tombstone of Fr Finnegan, who died in 2002, was removed from the graveyard under the cover of darkness. This reads like something out of a lurid Dracula novel rather than as disturbing and real facts of only a couple of months ago.

One of the more chilling aspects of the scandal is that Finnegan's appalling paedophilia was an open secret to many of Finnegan's adult contemporaries but no-one spoke out.

The former Bishop of Dromore Dr John McAreavey, who made significant errors of judgment in dealing with Fr Finnegan, has resigned, and rightly so.

Now the distressing situation has taken a significant twist with the intervention of the former Irish President Mary McAleese who revealed on RTE Radio this week that her youngest brother Clem Lenaghan had been "sadistically" physically abused by Father Finnegan when he was a pupil at St Colman's College.

This followed a letter by Mr Lenaghan to the Belfast Telegraph outlining his beatings and torment at the hands of Fr Finnegan.

In his strongly-worded letter he claimed that "something rotten was allowed to fester at the core of that school - I saw it every day."

He asked why Finnegan had been able to get away with this for so long "without other adults in the school, or the diocese, turning a blind eye, or actively protecting him".

Mrs McAleese stated that both the school and the Church had huge questions to answer. "Who knew what and when?" she asked.

She also observed that: "An independent inquiry is warranted." She is absolutely right.

Meanwhile' the Catholic Church authorities have issued the usual predictable statements emphasising that they are complying with the safeguarding measures now required by the law.

St Colman's College, which has emerged particularly badly from this episode, has said that it will co-operate fully with any investigation into Finnegan's behaviour.

However' the general public are asking why did the school and the diocese not act sooner in preventing this appalling abuse from continuing?

Once again these revelations have had to be dragged out of the Catholic authorities, instead of them uncovering the truth long ago. This casts a deep shadow over Catholicism and the college.

Worst of all' it is an insult to the memory of St Patrick who risked his life to bring Christianity to this island. Pope Francis, as Mary McAleese suggests, could do worse than visit Newry to make amends, during his visit here in August.

Somehow, I don't think this will happen.

Belfast Telegraph

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