Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Murphy adds voice to calls for public inquiry into clerical sex abuse

Senior Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy has added his voice to calls for a public inquiry into clerical abuse in the north after revealing his own physical abuse at the hands of notorious paedophile priest Fr. Malachy Finegan.

The Newry and Armagh representative revealed last week that the former principal of St.Colman’s College in Newry beat him and attempted to groom him when he was a pupil at the school in the late 1970s. 

He is the latest former pupil to come forward with their story of abuse since last month’s revelations that Finegan systematically abused pupils at St.Colman’s, both physically and sexually during his twenty years at the school. Finegan has also been accused of abusing children during his time as a priest for the Clonduff parish in Hilltown.  He was never questioned by police or prosecuted for his crimes before his death in 2002.

Mr Murphy, who attended St Colman’s from 1975 to 1980, recalled how when he was 14, Finegan dragged him by the crown of his head along a corridor and up two flights of stairs into his room where he savagely beat him with a stick, before he “suddenly flipped”, engaging in a series of inappropriate and explicit questions.  

The Sinn Fein MLA, who said Finegan “was always prone to more violence than was perhaps to do with discipline”, maintains he was not shocked by the explicit conversation because he had been “forewarned by other pupils that this was what was likely to happen.”

Describing the disgraced cleric as a “violent, volatile, bullying drunkard”, Mr Murphy also expressed his anger that Finegan’s reign of abuse was allowed to continue, despite his sexual interest in young boys being widely known within the school. 

He said whilst he was not aware of Finegan’s sexual abuse of fellow pupils, everyone in the school knew about the explicit conversations he would initiate with the boys.

“We knew it was wrong, it was inappropriate, that it was not natural for a man, particularly a priest, to behave in that fashion,” he said.

“This was the late 70s, we were 14-year-olds, we didn’t understand paedophilia, we didn’t understand it was essentially a grooming exercise.

“But we knew quite a few pupils had gone through it. We didn’t know that he had sexually abused boys but we knew and understood that he had an unhealthy interest and the way you approached that conversation was to shut down and try to get out of that office as quickly as you could.”

Mr Murphy has questioned why no one in authority ever intervened given that knowledge of Finegan’s unhealthy interest in young boys was so widespread among the pupils in the school.  Calling for a full investigation, he said the school authorities, wider education authorities and the Catholic Church, all had questions to answer.

“I am angry that a man who was a violent, aggressive bully, a drunkard with an unhealthy interest in children, and that was obvious, was allowed to be a principal of a school, was allowed to be teacher in a school over a long number of years, allowed access to young boys.

“There was a system of administration in that school over a long number of years which allowed a paedophile to flourish, gave him authority, not only over all of the pupils, but gave him authority over the staff as well and put him in a position where he could abuse people and that needs to be explored, it needs to be investigated, it needs to be enquired into. Answers are needed.”

The Newry and Armagh MLA has made a statement to lawyers representing victims of Finegan’s abuse.  He said his experience “paled into insignificance” compared to those who suffered sexual abuse at Finegan’s hands but added that he hoped publicising his story would help to validate the accounts of others who have come forward and those who wish to come forward.

“I believe those people when they say they were sexually abused and I hope if others were sexually abused that they do come forward with their story,” he said.

“I hope me speaking publicly maybe gives some people confidence to come forward, and that’s the purpose of me speaking.

“It’s not to draw any degree of sympathy for myself but it’s actually to encourage others and to say that we believe those who say they were sexually abused, we know the pattern in the school.