Church tight-lipped on paedophile priest’s time in Dromore

Father Malachy Finnegan. (Pacemaker Belfast)
Father Malachy Finnegan. (Pacemaker Belfast)

The Catholic Church has declined to comment on questions about paedophile priest Fr Malachy Finnegan’s time in the Parish of Dromore.

Fr Finnegan was employed at St Colman’s College in Newry from 1967 to 1987, including a period from 1976 as school president, and is accused of abusing at least 12 people.

Resignation: Dr John McAreavey served as Bishop of Dromore from 1999 until 2018.

Resignation: Dr John McAreavey served as Bishop of Dromore from 1999 until 2018.

He went on to serve in Dromore, but the church said it couldn’t confirm what dates he worked in the local diocese.

With the Bishop of Dromore, Dr John McAreavey, having resigned on Friday amid criticism of how he handled the abuse scandal, the Banbridge/Dromore Leader asked the Diocese of Dromore and the Catholic Church if it was aware of any allegations of abuse having been made against Fr Finnegan before he was appointed to serve as parish priest in Dromore.

The Leader submitted a series of questions, including asking why Fr Finnegan, who died in 2002, had been placed in Dromore and why he left the diocese.

The church’s main press office in Dublin said: “The Catholic Communications Office has no further information on this issue at this time.”

Father Malachy Finnegan. (Archive pic, Pacemaker Belfast)

Father Malachy Finnegan. (Archive pic, Pacemaker Belfast)

Dr McAreavey, who last month issued a statement apologising to Fr Finnegan’s victims, resigned on Friday following calls from the victims for him to quit.

In a letter to “the people, religious and clergy of the Diocese of Dromore”, Dr McAreavey, who served as Bishop from 1999, urged people to pray for those who have suffered abuse.

“Today I am writing my letter of resignation as Bishop of Dromore to Pope Francis. I do so with a heavy heart.

“I wrestled with this decision over recent weeks; it was not an easy decision to take.

“Following recent media coverage which has disturbed and upset many people, I decided on Thursday to resign,” he wrote.

“I would ask you first and foremost to continue to hold in your prayers those who have been abused and all who are suffering at this time.

“Until new arrangements for the leadership of the Diocese are in place, Canon Liam Stevenson, the Vicar General will take responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the Diocese. As regards the celebration of Confirmation, the priests of each parish have been delegated to minister this Sacrament.

“To serve as Bishop of Dromore, my home Diocese, has been the greatest privilege of my life, though not without its challenges.

“Finally, I want to say thank you for your kindness and co-operation over my time as Bishop.

“Please keep me in your prayers, as I will keep you in mine.”

Many of the revelations about the child sex abuse by Fr Finnegan and the subsequent handling of the allegations by the Catholic Church have become public following an investigation by the BBC Spotlight programme.

Spotlight reporter Mandy McAuley revealed that Bishop McAreavey said Mass in 2000 alongside Fr Finnegan at St John the Evangelist Church in Hilltown, despite having been aware of the allegations against him.

In last month’s statement, Bishop McAreavey expressed “regret” at having said funeral mass for Fr Finnegan in 2002 and apologised “unreservedly” to the victims and their families.

He said the first allegation against Fr Finnegan “came to light” in 1994, the second in 1998, with a further 10 being made after his death in 2002.

A spokesperson for the PSNI, meanwhile, said “it would appear the Catholic Church referred the allegations to PSNI in 2006” - 12 years after Dr McAreavey said the allegations first “came to light”.