The former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese has called for an independent inquiry into the Church’s handling of allegations of abuse against the late Fr Malachy Finnegan, a one time president St Colman’s College in Newry, and a priest of the Diocese of Dromore.
In an interview with RTE Radio’s Sean O’Rourke programme this week, Dr McAleese said she believed the victims were “legion” and said the first complaints against Finnegan dated back to the 1970s not the 1990s.
She also revealed that her 49-year-old brother had been “seriously, physically, sadistically” abused by Fr Malachy Finnegan for all the years he attended St Colman’s College.
“There are huge questions to be answered by all the people who were involved at a senior level in that school and in the diocese as to what they knew and when they knew it. It shouts for an inquiry really,” she said.
Mrs McAleese said that her 90-year-old mother had only learned about her brother’s treatment, when Clem Leneghan wrote a letter about his experiences at the college to the Belfast Telegraph last month. He described Malachy Finnegan as a sadist who had “presided over a culture of bullying, violence, intimidation and secrecy.”
In her RTE interview, Dr McAleese became emotional as she admitted that because the “culture of silence” was “so oppressive and because these children were made to be so fearful”, she had only learned of her brother’s abuse within the past year.
Fr Finnegan taught at St Colman’s from 1967 and was president of the school between 1976 and 1987. He later served in parishes in the diocese of Dromore and died in 2002.
“So many people who were in the school had to have known; so many people who could have done something about it. We know now that the very first complaints about Malachy Finnegan go back to the 1970s not the 1990s.”
Responding to Ms McAleese’s call, a spokesman for the Irish bishops indicated that they would cooperate with any public inquiry into child sexual abuse by Fr Finnegan.
He referred to last week’s statement by the bishops on child safeguarding in which the hierarchy reiterated their commitment to both the review process of dioceses by the National Board for Safeguarding Children and their “full cooperation with any inquiry required by statutory bodies”.
Earlier this month, the Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey tendered his resignation following protests from some of Finnegan’s victims. Last October, the Diocese of Dromore agreed to a six-figure financial settlement with one of the victims. Thirteen allegations of abuse have so far been made against the priest. In February, BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme revealed new allegations of abuse which the police are currently investigating.
PICTURE: Mary McAleese pictured in 2016 ©PA