Northern Ireland news

Victim of paedophile priest secures biggest ever pay-out

Fr Malachy Finnegan, a former president of St Colman's College in Newry, died in 2002

A victim of a paedophile priest who taught at Co Down school has secured what is thought to be the biggest ever pay-out in a historical abuse case in Northern Ireland.

Fr Malachy Finnegan worked as a teacher in St Colman's College in Newry from 1967 to 1976 and was president of the grammar school from 1976 until 1987.

The victim, who was 11 years old at the time of his abuse, secured a six-figure compensation sum, a letter of acknowledgement from Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey and an agreement that the Church pay for ongoing therapy sessions.

Also included is an opportunity for the victim to attend the school in an attempt to "exorcise his demons".

Dr McAreavey has said he made an "error of judgement" by officiating at Fr Finnegan's funeral and revealed there were a total of 12 allegations made against the priest.

The first came to light in 1994, the second was made in 1988 and was not related to his tenure at St Colman's, while the others emerged after his death in 2002.

An elaborate headstone placed on his grave, paid for by the Catholic Church, has since been removed.

The boy, a boarding pupil at St Colman's College when the abuse took place, was said to have suffered "violent sexual and emotional" abuse which "caused him to be permanently scarred".

Malachy Finnegan was a Latin teacher at the school at the time. He was later appointed parish priest in Dromore and held the position of parish priest in Clonduff until 1995.

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Bishop McAreavey said earlier this month he had asked the National Board for Safeguarding Children to review the case of Fr Finnegan when it conducted an independent audit of all allegations against priests in the diocese in 2011.

He described his actions as “abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible”.

However, Claire McKeegan, a partner with KRW Law, last night criticised the Church for its response following allegations made against Fr Finnegan.

She said no call was ever made for victims to come forward and he was "buried as a priest in good standing with a bishop presiding over his requiem Mass".

"Our clients have called for a public inquiry once and for all into clerical abuse in Northern Ireland and for the Church to surrender its documents and records for the scrutiny of a judge-led investigation which has the powers to get to the truth."

The Diocese of Dromore last night rejected the criticism and said the practise within safeguarding procedures "has been to report all allegations of abuse by any priest in the diocese including that of Fr Finnegan".

"The believability of the testimonies and stories of victims has always been accepted by the diocesan authorities immaterial of whether victims made a decision to engage with the police or not," it said.

"The records show that in relation to the first allegation that the then bishop and his legal advisor both recognised and were aware of their duty to report the matter. The practice of the then bishop in other cases at that time was also to report the allegations.

"The second reported incident came to the diocese after it was known to social services and the police. All subsequent allegations were also reported to the civil authorities including the police.

"The diocese has a victim-centred approach and has always taken account of the competing desires of victims to go public or maintain their privacy."

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