Northern Ireland

Diocese at centre of sexual abuse scandal could be facing bankruptcy

Archbishop Eamon Martin.
Archbishop Eamon Martin.

A CATHOLIC diocese at the centre of a sexual abuse scandal could be facing bankruptcy.

Archbishop Eamon Martin accepted the crisis facing Dromore as he announced details of a redress scheme.

He apologised unreservedly for "hurt and damage" caused to victims and survivors.

Complaints about abuse from approximately 70 people have been made in the past 35 years in Dromore.

It is believed the majority - about 40 - concerned Fr Malachy Finegan.

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The diocese has set aside £2.5 million for the scheme, with individual payouts to be capped at £80,000.

About £2m has already been paid out in legal settlements involving 15 cases.

Archbishop Martin said the diocese was willing to commit whatever resources available for the purpose of redress "even if that should exhaust those resources".

He made it clear that funding was limited, however.

"I don't know what would happen if we run out of resources but I think I have to be realistic in saying that legal cases will exhaust those resources very quickly leaving other claimants there with a situation of a diocese that is bankrupt," he warned.

While some US dioceses have gone bankrupt, it would be the first time a diocese in Ireland has faced financial ruin.

Some victims have dismissed the scheme while there have been calls for a public inquiry.

Paul Gilmore, who is taking a civil case against the diocese, said he will not take part.

"They're concerned about their exposure in the wider civil justice system. This is an attempt to limit that exposure in my view."

Mr Gilmore also questioned the proposed £80,000 cap on payments - lower than several settlements awarded to some of Finegan's victims.

And he queried why only £2.5 million had been set aside, given the wealth of the Catholic Church.

Dermot Nagle, another of Finegan's victims, is also taking a civil case against the diocese.

"I don’t believe that claims for abuse by a priest on a little boy should be limited or capped and I’m concerned that this is another attempt by the Church to close down this scandal in an economic way without any disclosure, without any admission of liability and without having to answer our questions on how this was allowed to happen publicly."

Solicitor Claire McKeegan, of Phoenix Law, who represents the majority of Finegan's victims, said the redress scheme is a "piecemeal approach".

She said the scheme “will not give people their day in court with full access to disclosure".

Lawyer Kevin Winters, whose firm represents 25 survivors of historic abuse linked to the diocese, welcomed the scheme, but said it was "long overdue".

"Over half a million pounds has already been paid out by the diocese to survivors we represent. That figure continues to rise following another settlement this week. We hope the new scheme will not curtail that financial upward trajectory," he said.