Northern Ireland

Concerns about delays in reporting Finegan allegations to form part of police investigation

The first allegation against Fr Malachy Finnegan was made in 1994
The first allegation against Fr Malachy Finnegan was made in 1994

CONCERNS that former Bishop John McAreavey and other Church figures failed to tell police about child abuse allegations against Fr Malachy Finegan are to form part of an investigation into the paedophile priest.

Dr McAreavey last week announced his resignation as Bishop of Dromore after it emerged he celebrated Mass alongside Finegan despite knowing he was a paedophile.

Finegan, who died in 2002, was accused of sexually abusing children on church premises and at St Colman's College in Newry where he was a teacher.

Before he became bishop in 1999, Dr McAreavey provided support to one of Finegan's victims following an allegation raised with the diocese in 1994.

He was asked to provide pastoral support by then Bishop Francis Brooks, who died in 2010, and said he told his superior of his responsibility to inform authorities.

The diocese has said the practice at the time was for Dr Brooks to report allegations.

A second allegation against Finegan was made in 1998, while others emerged after his death in January 2002.

However, the PSNI said the Catholic Church first referred allegations against Finegan to police in 2006.

Since the Finegan controversy erupted last month, police have set up a dedicated team to investigate complaints of clerical and institutional abuse involving the deceased priest.

It has now emerged at least one complaint has been made about delays in reporting the allegations against Finegan to police.

Asked whether police would be investigating concerns over Dr McAreavey not contacting police for several years, Detective Superintendent Deirdre Bones of the public protection branch said: "The PSNI has set up a dedicated team to investigate all complaints of clerical and institutional abuse and the comments highlighted will form one of our lines of inquiry."

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director for Amnesty International, said he made a report to police in Newry on Friday.

How The Irish News has reported on the Fr Malachy Finnegan abuse scandal
How The Irish News has reported on the Fr Malachy Finnegan abuse scandal

However, he said officers refused to accept his complaint because he was not directly involved in the case.

"Sometimes police state that they have been unable to initiate a criminal investigation because a member of the public has not reported a suspected crime to them. I wanted to ensure they had received a crime report as I think this issue needs to be investigated by the PSNI," he said.

"Based on the information in the public domain that Bishop Brooks and Dr John McAreavey were aware of allegations of child abuse against Fr Malachy Finegan in 1994, but the police have said there was no report from the diocese until 2006, that would appear to be an offence.

"Failure to report a crime is an offence under section five of the Criminal Law (Northern Ireland) Act 1967."

Speaking to the Irish Catholic last month, Dr McAreavey said he faced a dilemma as victims were divided over whether Finegan's past should be publicised, but he expressed regret at not speaking publicly sooner.

He described the former teacher's actions as "abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible", and admitted he made an "error" by officiating at Finegan's funeral.

Dr McAreavey also said he had specifically asked the Catholic Church's clerical abuse watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children, to review the case of Finegan when it conducted an independent audit of all allegations against priests in the diocese in 2011.

Det Supt Bones last night confirmed there is a legal obligation "that anyone who has information about a serious crime should bring it to the attention of police".

“The PSNI has set up a dedicated team to investigate all complaints involving Father Malachy Finnegan. Any reports or allegations of abuse or information relating to the failure to report abuse to police will be investigated thoroughly by this team. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.

“I would appeal to anyone who has been the victim of physical or sexual abuse to report it to the PSNI Public Protection Branch, who will deal with their reports sensitively and confidentially.”

Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International
Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International