Northern Ireland

Priest in charge of Dromore diocese is former head of school where Malachy Finegan abused pupils

Canon Liam Stevenson (left) and Fr Malachy Finegan
Canon Liam Stevenson (left) and Fr Malachy Finegan Canon Liam Stevenson (left) and Fr Malachy Finegan

THE priest temporarily in charge of the Diocese of Dromore following the resignation of its bishop over the Malachy Finegan scandal is a former head of the school where the cleric sexually abused pupils.

Canon Liam Stevenson and the Catholic Church last night did not address questions about his role, including when he first became aware of allegations against Finegan.

The parish priest of St Peter's and St Paul's in Lurgan has taken responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the diocese until a permanent replacement for Dr John McAreavey is selected.

Dr McAreavey announced his resignation last week after it emerged he celebrated Mass alongside Finegan despite knowing he was a paedophile. He had previously admitted making an "error of judgment" by officiating at his funeral Mass.

Finegan, who died in 2002, has been accused of a catalogue of sexual and physical abuse against boys on church premises and at St Colman's College in Newry. He was never questioned by police or prosecuted.

He worked in St Colman's from 1967 and was president of the college from 1976 to 1987.

Canon Stevenson, Vicar General of the diocese, also worked at the college from the 1970s, teaching maths, physics and religion.

He was appointed vice-principal in 1993 and president the following year, working in this role until September 2000.

The Dromore diocese has said the first allegation against Finegan arose in 1994, seven years after the priest left St Colman's.

Dr McAreavey provided pastoral support to the victim at the time.

A second allegation was made in 1998, while others emerged after his death.

Dr McAreavey became bishop in 1999, and in this role would have chaired the St Colman's board of governors.

Correspondence seen by The Irish News shows that then Bishop Francis Brooks was told in 1995 he was legally obliged to report allegations of abuse by Finegan to police, and the diocese has said his practice at that time was to do so.

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

The Irish News asked a series of questions to the Dromore diocese and Canon Stevenson, including when he first became aware of child abuse allegations against Finegan.

Canon Stevenson, originally from north Armagh, last night did not respond.

A Catholic Church spokeswoman said: "The Catholic Communications Office has no further information on these issues at this time."

St Colman's also did not answer any questions, including when it first became aware of allegations against Finegan.

In a statement, the board of governors said it would be "inappropriate" to comment "given that the PSNI has established a victims' unit to investigate these matters".

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director for Amnesty International – which has called for a public inquiry into clerical abuse in the north – said the Church should be "open and transparent".

"This is an issue of huge public concern. It is incumbent on the Catholic Church to be open and transparent in its decision-making processes, and who knew what and when," he said.

"At the heart of this, we think there needs to be a public investigation and a public inquiry."

The Finegan controversy erupted last month after it emerged the Diocese of Dromore reached a six-figure settlement last year with one of his abuse victims.

The diocese said it had been made aware of 12 abuse allegations against Finnegan, who was also the parish priest for Clonduff in Hilltown.

It is understood settlements have been previously reached with other victims, while some have yet to be concluded.

Read more:Victims' lawyer Kevin Winters recalls own 'unsettling' experience of paedophile Fr Malachy Finegan

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