Former St. Colman’s pupils reveal paedophile priest’s physical abuse

March 12, 2018

As the controversy continues over paedophile priest and former president of St.Colman’s, Fr Malachy Finnegan, former pupils have spoken out about the physical abuse they also suffered at his hands

Finnegan, who died in 2002, was accused of sexually abusing children on church premises and at St Colman’s College in Newry where he was a teacher and later president. The priest was never questioned by police or prosecuted, despite the first allegation against him being made to the diocese in 1994. 

The Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, resigned last week after it emerged he had concelebrated Mass with Finnegan in 2000 even though he knew he was a paedophile, having provided pastoral support to one of Finnegan’s victims following the 1994 allegation.  He said he told his superior, the late Bishop Francis Brooks, of his responsibility to inform police.  In 1998, a second allegation was made against Finnegan with several more emerging after his death in January 2002.

Now more and more former pupils are speaking out about their experiences at the school and the climate of fear Finnegan created among St. Colman’s students, with many sharing stories of the brutal physical abuse he is said to have regularly meted out.  

Crossmaglen native and former boarder at the Newry grammar school, Anthony Kieran, told the Irish News last week how he was savagely beaten by Finnegan in a chapel on school grounds when he was 11 years old. 

The married father-of-two said he was in his first few months at the school when he was attacked for tapping his foot off the wall of the church.  Describing himself as 5 foot tall and weighing less than 6 stone at the time, Mr Kieran recalled how a “ranting, fuming Finnegan” knocked him to the floor with the full force of his hand on his face before repeatedly picking him up “like a rag doll” to beat him further.  The south Armagh man said around 50 students witnessed the brutal attack but knew “he was not a man to confront.”  Mr Kieran said he never considered reporting Finnegan at the time as he was the president of St. Colman’s and, effectively, he “would have been reporting him to himself.”

He said he felt extremely lucky not to have been subjected to sexual abuse by the paedophile but added that, as first year boarders, “we were aware that something was going on,” with rumours amongst the boys about being taken to Finnegan’s room to watch TV. He added that it was important for him to speak out now so that other victims know “they are both brave and believed.”

High profile human rights lawyer, Kevin Winters, has also revealed his  “unsettling” experience of the disgraced cleric during his time as a former student of the grammar school when Finnegan was president.  Mr Winters, whose KRW Law firm is representing five of Finnegan’s victims, told the Newry Democrat he was asked “wholly inappropriate questions” by Finnegan when the lawyer was going through puberty and he recalled how the priest was violent towards him, deploying violence “followed by a repulsive excess of affection.”  Mr Winters added that he and many other boys in the school were “presented as potential targets or prey for his abuse.” 

Since the Finnegan scandal broke last month, police have set up a dedicated team to investigate complaints of clerical and institutional abuse involving the now deceased priest, with at least one complaint made regarding delays in reporting the allegations against Finegan to police.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director for Amnesty International, has revealed he made a report to police on Friday but officers refused to accept his complaint because he was not directly involved in the case.

“Sometimes police state that they have been unable to initiate a criminal investigation because a member of the public has not reported a suspected crime to them,” said Mr Corrigan, 

“I wanted to ensure they had received a crime report as I think this issue needs to be investigated by the PSNI,” he said.

“Based on the information in the public domain that Bishop Brooks and Dr John McAreavey were aware of allegations of child abuse against Fr Malachy Finegan in 1994, but the police have said there was no report from the diocese until 2006, that would appear to be an offence.”