Why was paedophile priest allowed to take part in church service in Banbridge?

The Diocese of Dromore and the Catholic Church have declined to comment on how paedophile priest Fr Malachy Finnegan was permitted to take part in a service in Banbridge after abuse allegations had been made against him.

Father Malachy Finnegan. (Pacemaker Belfast)

Fr Finnegan, who was employed at St Colman’s College in Newry from 1967 to 1987, including a period as school president, is accused of sexually and physically abusing at least 12 people.

The Catholic Church has said the first allegation against him “came to light” in 1994, a second four years later and a further 10 were made following his death in 2002. However, questions are now being asked about how he was allowed to take part in services, despite concerns having been raised about suspected cases of abuse.

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The Banbridge Leader asked the Catholic Church and the Diocese of Dromore why Fr Finnegan was permitted to take part in a service at St Teresa’s Church in Banbridge in autumn 2000, and if the church was aware of the allegations of abuse against him when he took part in the service.

The Catholic Church’s press office in Dublin didn’t answer the questions, but said it had passed the Leader’s correspondence on to the Dromore Diocese. However, the diocese didn’t respond to any of the queries either, with a spokesperson only saying they had “no comment” to make on the issue.

Last week the Catholic Church declined to comment on questions about Fr Finnegan’s time as parish priest in Dromore.

The Leader put further questions to the church’s press office this week, but again there was no response.

Dr John McAreavey resigned earlier this month as Bishop of Dromore after being criticised by victims for his handling of the abuse scandal, and for saying mass alongside Fr Finnegan in Hilltown in 2000, despite being aware of the allegations of abuse.

The PSNI has said the church didn’t report the matter to them until 2006 - 12 years after Dr McAreavey said the allegations first “came to light”.

The complaints against Fr Finnegan, and the handling of the allegations, are now the subject of a police investigation.

The Leader asked the diocese if the man temporarily in charge, Canon Liam Stevenson, would give an assurance that the church will cooperate fully with any police investigation into the abuse scandal and allegations that information about Fr Finnegan’s actions may have been withheld.

Canon Stevenson, who was also present at the service attended by Fr Finnegan in St Teresa’s in 2000, was also asked if he could assure parishioners in Dromore that the church is doing all it can to help victims of abuse and prevent further incidents occurring in future.

Again the spokesperson for the diocese said they had no comment to make.

Meanwhile, top human rights lawyer Kevin Winters, who is originally from Banbridge, last week told the Newry Democrat how Fr Finnegan had attempted to groom him when he attended St Colman’s College.

He revealed how when he was a young teenager he was subjected to “wholly inappropriate” one-to-one questioning in the predatory priest’s office.

Mr Winters’ firm, KRW Law, is acting for five of Fr Finnegan’s victims.