Northern Ireland news

Priest and abuse survivor says there existed 'a culture of violence' at schools and calls for wide-ranging public inquiry

Fr Patrick McCafferty has called for a wide-ranging public inquiry into abuse and said there existed a "culture of violence" in schools across Northern Ireland. Picture by Hugh Russell
John Monaghan

A PRIEST who is a sexual abuse survivor has said there existed "a culture of violence" at schools across Northern Ireland and has called for a wide-ranging public inquiry into abuse to cover all institutions.

Fr Patrick McCafferty, the parish priest of Corpus Christi in west Belfast, suffered abuse while training for the priesthood in the 1980s at the hands of Fr James Donaghy, who is currently serving a jail sentence for offences against four teenagers.

The cleric was speaking a day after veteran Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy revealed he had been physically abused by paedophile priest Fr Malachy Finegan, who also attempted to sexually groom him.

Fr Finegan, who was the parish priest of Clonduff in Hilltown and a teacher at, and later president of, St Colman's College in Newry, has been accused of the physical and sexual abuse of boys at the school and on church premises. He died in 2002.

Fr McCafferty said that any inquiry should be wide ranging and should not focus on one school or institution.

He told The Irish News: "There was a culture of violence in schools. I went to St Malachy's in the 1970s.

"They dragged pupils by the hair and manhandled them, smashed their heads off walls. The sort of stuff that you would be ringing 999 about today.

"That is another conversation to be had - what was all that about? You had pupils who were growing up in the worst years of the Troubles, and you were going from a violent society into a violent school.

"It was the attitude of contempt behind the violence, the sneering and the humiliation, that did the damage," added Fr McCafferty.

The Belfast-based cleric said that John McAreavey, the Bishop of Dromore, was left with "no other option" but to resign earlier this month after it emerged he concelebrated Mass with Fr Finegan in 2000 and presided over his funeral Mass two years later.

However, Fr McCafferty added: "The Requiem Mass wasn't about saying that Malachy Finegan was a great fella...that he was in some way showing some form of approval for him.

"It was asking for God's mercy for Malachy Finegan, that's what a funeral Mass is about. Every person has sin in their life."

The collapse of power-sharing at Stormont has left abuse victims in limbo, with no date as to when the recommendations of the Historical Abuse Inquiry (HIA) might be implemented.

Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart, the chair of the inquiry, delivered his findings in January 2017, recommending compensation worth up to £100,000 for survivors as well as an apology for their suffering and access to proper mental health facilities.

"What happened with the HIA was astonishing, that these people have been left abandoned by the political establishment," said Fr McCafferty.

"Clint Massey, the Kincora victim, died a few weeks ago without any justice or any prospect of justice. I have buried two people who were in those places.

"I have always supported calls for a public inquiry into abuse across the north, right across the board, but it needs to be something which heals people.

"People come to terms with abuse when they can and as best they can. There is no ready made solution. Every individual journey has to be respected.

"If there is to be a public inquiry, let it do what it is supposed to do for the survivors. Let's discuss it and analyse it, and ensure that what happened never happens again," added Fr McCafferty.

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