Editorial: Abuse victims deserve full disclosure

The Irish News [Belfast, Northern Ireland]

October 1, 2021

It was February 2018 that the lid was lifted on the vile and abhorrent behaviour of Fr Malachy Finegan.

The priest had held a prestigious position as president of leading Catholic grammar St Colman’s in Newry, where he had also been a teacher. He later became parish priest of Clonduff in Hilltown, Co Down. Bishop of Dromore Dr John McAreavey officiated at his funeral mass in 2002.

However, as a BBC Spotlight investigation discovered, the priest had a horrifying dark side, abusing an untold number of boys in a paedophile campaign spanning decades.

It also became clear that Bishop Francis Brooks had been alerted to Finegan’s behaviour but sent the priest to England for ‘treatment’ in 1994 instead of reporting him to the police.

Sadly, this is a story we have heard far too many times in recent years as the full extent of the clerical abuse scandal has been revealed, not just in Ireland but around the world.

It is a shameful chapter in the history of the Catholic Church, which failed children instead of protecting them.

The issue for the Church is how it can adequately address the appalling damage caused to so many young victims of abusive priests.

The reality is that nothing can truly compensate for the lives ruined, the life opportunities lost, the profound pain and suffering inflicted.

But that does not mean there should not be some redress, which can take a number of forms.

This week, Archbishop Eamon Martin apologised for the ‘hurt and damage’ caused to victims and survivors of clerical abuse and launched a £2.5 million redress scheme in the Diocese of Dromore, the first of its kind in Ireland.

The diocese said the process would be victim-centred and aimed to provide recognition as well as ‘reasonable compensation’ without the need for lengthy investigation and litigation.

It may be that this scheme will be appropriate for some victims who do not wish to go through a traumatic legal process.

But others have made it clear they are intent on pursuing civil cases in order to achieve full disclosure.

The £80,000 cap on payments and the size of the fund has also raised questions, given that £2 million has already been paid out in legal settlements in 15 cases and there are believed to be around 70 complaints, including 40 about Finegan.

Any sincere attempt to address the suffering of victims and survivors must be welcomed but the Church also has a responsibility to disclose any and all information relating to clerical abuse.