Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

‘Historic’ allegation against former St. Colman’s head probed

St. Colman’s College in Newry has been rocked by further child safeguarding claims after former principal, Canon Francis Brown, announced that he has agreed to step aside from public ministry after an allegation of “an historic nature” was made against him.

Addressing a congregation after 6.00pm Mass in Newry Cathedral on Saturday evening, Canon Brown said he had been informed of the allegation by Bishop Philip Boyce, the Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese, but he claimed that the details of the allegation had not yet been revealed to him or the Diocese.

He said the complaint had been made recently and that he had agreed to step aside from his role as Administrator of the Parish to allow the investigation to be completed.

“In accordance with the agreed protocol I shall not be involved in ministry during that period of time,”  he advised, before reassuring his parishioners and fellow priests that he expected to return to his work in the parish “in the near future”.

 The latest revelation has sent shockwaves throughout the district and the St. Colman’s school community, which is still reeling from the Fr Malachy Finnegan clerical sex abuse scandal which emerged earlier this year.  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 Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, resigned 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 first allegation in 1994.  

The PSNI’s public protection branch established a special unit in the wake of the Finnegan abuse claims to investigate complaints against him and any other living offender.

Allegations subsequently surfaced about a second priest, Fr Seamus Reid, who is alleged to have abused boys during confessions at St. Joseph’s Boys’ High School in Newry and the neighbouring St. Colman’s College during the 1960s.

Former Principal of St. Colman’s College, Canon Francis Brown (on left) announced at weekend Masses that he is stepping aside from ministry after an allegation ‘of an historic nature’ was made against him.  He is pictured next to former Bishop of Dromore Dr. John McAreavey who retired in March of this year amid controversy over his handling of child sex abuse allegations made against now-deceased Fr. Malachy Finnegan, Brown’s predecessor at the Newry grammar school.

 Canon Brown’s announcement at the weekend came just days after he led a May Procession and celebrated Mass at St. Ronan’s Primary School in Newry.  With police confirming that the historical allegation was reported to them last month, parents of some children attending the school have questioned why Canon Brown was not immediately suspended from clerical duties and how he could officiate over a primary school ceremony when such an allegation had been made against him.  The Examiner contacted the Dromore diocese to clarify if Canon Brown and his superiors were aware of the allegation in April but had not received a response at the time of going to press.

In a statement released on Saturday, the diocese said it could make no further comment whilst the investigation is ongoing and advised anyone “who may have a concern of a safeguarding nature to contact the PSNI, Social Services, or the Diocesan Designated Safeguarding Officer on 077 8991 7741”.

The PSNI have confirmed that its Public Protection Branch is currently investigating an historical allegation of abuse against a member of clergy in the Diocese of Dromore.

“This allegation was reported to PSNI in April 2018.  As this is an ongoing investigation it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time,” a PSNI spokesperson said.