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Co Down priest tells congregation threat has been reported to police

The Parochial house in Hilltown where paedophile priest Fr Malachy Finegan sexually abused a child. Picture Mal McCann.

A CO Down priest has told parishioners that he has been forced to report an abusive and threatening letter to police.

Fr Charles Byrne told the congregation at Mass in Hilltown yesterday that police are investigating abuse including a threat ordering him to leave his parish in Clonduff.

While the full content of the message was not made clear, Fr Byrne described it as “abusive and threatening”.

The priest said he had passed the correspondence on to his solicitor who alerted police.

He also said his solicitor would be reacting to what he described as “defamatory remarks” posted online by a former Newry and Mourne councillor.

The threats are thought to have been linked to recent revelations in relation to paedophile priest Fr Malachy Finegan.

Last month parishioners at the parish were informed during Mass that Fr Byrne would no longer be staying at the parochial house.

The decision was made after some community members said they would refuse to attend the parochial house or recognise it as a community hub after learning that children were abused in the building.

Finegan, who died in 2002, was parish priest for Clonduff parish in Hilltown in the 1990s.

He has been accused of sexually and physically abusing numerous children over several decades. He was never prosecuted despite some of his victims having reported the abuse in the late 1990s.

One of his victims, Sean Faloon, said he was abused by Finegan as an altar boy from the age of 10 in the bedroom of the parochial house.

Pupils of St Colman’s College, where Finegan was a teacher and later president, were also abused by Finegan.

Speaking last month Fr Byrne told the congregation: “It has been arranged that I will stay in the parochial house in Warrenpoint for the time being until something is sorted out here in the parish.”

Former Bishop John McAreavey resigned as Bishop of Dromore last month after it emerged he celebrated Mass alongside Finegan despite knowing he was a paedophile.

He also said Requiem Mass for the paedophile priest following his death in 2002.

The PSNI has set up a dedicated unit to investigate the abuse, which will also look at whether any senior figures connected to the school or college failed to report abuse to the authorities.

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