Bishop apologises to victims of priest who abused college pupils

The entrance to St Colman's College, Newry. Pic by Google
The entrance to St Colman's College, Newry. Pic by Google

The Bishop of Dromore has “apologised unreservedly” to the victims of a paedophile priest who abused pupils at a Newry grammar school more than three decades ago.

A number of former pupils of St Colman’s College said they were sexually abused by Fr Malachy Finnegan, who worked at the school from 1967 - 1987. Ten victims came forward following his death in 2002.

Most Rev Dr John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore. Pic by Edward Byrne

Most Rev Dr John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore. Pic by Edward Byrne

The Diocese of Dromore has settled a number of cases linked to Fr Finnegan’s crimes, with others still ongoing.

It’s understood the settlements so far have involved apologies, compensation and counselling.

In 2011, Dr John McAreavey, who became Bishop of Dromore in 1999, asked the National Board for Safeguarding Children to conduct an independent audit of all allegations against priests in the diocese of Dromore from 1975 - 2011, including cases involving Malachy Finnegan.

Describing the former college president’s crimes as “abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible,” Dr McAreavey said: “A school should be a place of safety and security for children. It is a place in which parents should have trust and confidence. It is a place where children should be able to express their fears, anxieties and indeed aspirations in the knowledge that the structures of the school can provide the appropriate support.

“The actions of Malachy Finnegan were abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible. From 1994 to 2016 there have been a total of 12 allegations of abuse against him. He has caused hurt, which in some cases may never be healed. Malachy Finnegan has devastated families, including his own, and his former colleagues also feel betrayed by his behaviour. I apologise unreservedly to the victims and their families for his actions.”

Bishop McAreavey, who now regrets his decision to conduct Malachy Finnegan’s funeral mass in 2002, continued: “We speak about abuse cases as being historical but we must never lose sight of the reality that the legacy of abuse lives on for victims and for them it is all too present. I ask you to pray for them and their families.

“As always, I encourage anyone who feels that they may have been abused in a church context to come forward and receive the support they are entitled to. We have a Director of Safeguarding in the diocese who is ready and available to help and I hope, if there are those impacted by abuse, that this will help them on the start of their journey of recovery.”

A statement issued by the Board of Governors of St Colman’s College said they condemn “in the strongest possible terms the physical, sexual and emotional abuse inflicted by Malachy Finnegan when he was in the employment of the college over 30 years ago.”

“The Board of Governors is devastated that any pupil who was entrusted to the care of St Colman’s College should ever have suffered abuse,” the statement said. “The Board of Governors is aware that while this abuse took place over three decades ago, victims and their families carry its impact with them throughout their lives.”

Stressing that Malachy Finnegan’s image has been removed from photographs on display in the college, the statement added: “The abuse that Malachy Finnegan inflicted is the antithesis of all that the college stands for in terms of its aims, objectives, ethos and culture and it is a matter of absolute regret and sorrow that such behaviour should ever have occurred in St Colman’s College.

“The Board of Governors advises anyone who has been a victim of Malachy Finnegan’s abuse to bring this to the attention of the PSNI.”