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Church must listen to victims of abuse

It is just over a month since the Diocese of Dromore issued a statement regarding the abusive activities of Fr Malachy Finegan, former president of St Colman's College, Newry and parish priest of Clonduff parish.

That statement, which disclosed the fact that 12 allegations of abuse had been made against the priest, who died in 2002, made the wider public aware of the appalling and inexcusable behaviour of this man and along with a statement from the school, came ahead of a BBC Spotlight investigation into this matter.

For the first time, through this programme, we heard harrowing first hand accounts from Finegan's victims and the devastation he caused to so many young lives.

Since then, events have moved quickly with Bishop John McAreavey resigning and more victims coming forward to tell their stories, not just of sexual assaults but also the physical abuse meted out by Finegan at St Colman's.

We know that corporal punishment was widely used in schools during this period but the brutality and savagery shown by Fr Finegan seems to have been on a different scale with accounts of pupils being beaten unconscious in front of other students.

Former President Mary McAleese yesterday became the latest high profile figure to speak out on this scandal, describing on RTE how her youngest brother experienced 'serious, physical and sadistic' abuse by Finegan and this continued for all the years he was a pupil at St Colman's.

Mrs McAleese pointed out that a 'climate of fear' meant her brother felt unable to tell her about his ordeal which he revealed in recent weeks.

Adding her voice to calls from the victims for an independent inquiry into this scandal, Mrs McAleese said there were questions to be answered by those at a senior level in the Catholic Church.

There is no doubt that the more we have heard about the shocking activities of Malachy Finegan the more concerns have been raised about how this man, given his violent tendencies alone, came to be put in charge of a school.

After leaving St Colman's, Finegan was appointed parish priest in Hilltown where he used the parochial house to commit dreadful sexual abuse, something that has caused deep disquiet in the town and led to current priest Fr Charles Byrne announcing he would no longer stay at the house.

It has now emerged that Fr Byrne has received an abusive letter which included a threat ordering him to leave his parish in Clonduff.

The letter has been passed to police but it is absolutely unacceptable that threats or abuse should be directed at this priest who should be allowed to get on with his ministry.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church must listen to the victims and provide detailed answers to the many questions that have arisen over the past month.

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