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Bishop of Dromore resigns amid child abuse scandal

The Bishop of Dromore, Dr. John McAreavey, resigned last week amid growing controversy over the Catholic Church’s handling of paedophile priest and former president of St. Colman’s College, Fr. Malachy Finnegan. 

Bishop McAreavey had already been embroiled in a storm of controversy since expressing his regret at officiating at Finnegan’s funeral in 2002 as news broke of the priest’s crimes. Further revelations emerged last week that Dr McAreavey had co-celebrated mass with the disgraced priest in 2000. 

Fr Finnegan has been linked to a catalogue of sex abuse against pupils at the Newry grammar school.   Allegations about the former St.Colman’s president were first highlighted in a BBC Spotlight programme which aired last month, however, the first abuse claim against him came to light in 1994 when a victim reported details of abuse to the Diocese of Dromore. In a statement released after the settlement of one of Finnegan’s victims’ claims, the County Down diocese admitted it was aware of 12 alleged victims. 

The PSNI has since confirmed it has received eight new complaints against Finnegan since the Spotlight programme. 

Finnegan was a teacher at St Colman’s College in Newry from 1967 to 1976 and president there for 11 years before being transferred to Clonduff as parish priest in January 1988. 

It is understood that Dr McAreavey had known about allegations of child abuse against the disgraced cleric as far back as the mid-1990s, when his predecessor Bishop Francis Brooks asked him to liaise with one of Finnegan’s victims.

The Bishop of Dromore has faced growing pressure from victims and politicians to stand down since the revelations emerged. Last month parents of some pupils from St Patrick’s Primary School, Hilltown, Carrick Primary School, Burren, and St Patrick’s Mayobridge, objected to Dr McAreavey officiating at their children’s confirmations. 

The latest revelation that the Bishop had co-celebrated a service with Fr Finegan at his former parish, Clonduff, 18 years ago, has been addressed by a Diocese spokesperson who claims the event happened when Finnegan arrived unexpectedly at the parish church for the Jubilee Celebration and “vested along with other priests before the arrival of the bishop.”

Dr McAreavey was said to be “shocked” to see Fr Finegan but the priest’s “ill health at that time made him increasingly difficult to manage, therefore a spur of the moment decision was taken not to confront him just before the Mass started”. The bishop is said to have later visited the priest’s home to remonstrate with him.

In an unusual move, Bishop McAreavey announced his resignation via a  brief statement released through his personal solicitor late on Thursday afternoon. The 69 year old said,

“Following media reports which have disturbed and upset many people in the diocese and further afield I have decided to resign with immediate effect. I shall make further comment in due course.”

SDLP South Down MLA Sinead Bradley said Dr McAreavey’s resignation was the “right thing to do” and said her thoughts were “primarily with the victims but also with the wider community that has been deeply hurt.” 

In the wake of the high profile resignation, Amnesty International has called for Secretary of State Karen Bradley to set up a public inquiry into clerical child sex abuse in Northern Ireland. Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director, said the police and state authorities also have serious questions to answer “with regards to their apparent failure to adequately investigate very serious allegations and intervene to bring the alleged abuse to an end,” and he added that clerical abuse victims in the north have been “let down, not just by the church, but also by the authorities.”