“The Catholic Church has settled sexual abuse claims with victims of a priest who taught in a Newry school.
A total of 12 allegations were made against the late Fr Malachy Finnegan, who worked at St Colman’s College from 1967 to 1987.
The Diocese of Dromore reached the settlement with victims in October 2017, although details have only just emerged.
A joint statement from the St Colman’s board of governors yesterday condemned the abuse inflicted on pupils by Finnegan.
The school has since ordered all images of Finnegan to be removed.
Bishop of Dromore Dr John McAreavey said Finnegan’s actions were “abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible”.
The disgraced cleric was college president at St Colman’s for 11 years before being transferred to Clonduff as parish priest in January 1988.
Bishop McAreavey said the first allegations against him came in 1994, a year before his retirement.
A second allegation emerged in 1998, but was not related to his time in St Colman’s. All other complaints emerged after his death in January 2002.
“The abuse of any child by a priest is a violation of that child and betrayal of trust,” said Bishop McAreavey.
“The history of the Catholic Church in Ireland in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse has been a tragic one of failure and letdown.”
In 2011 the bishop said he welcomed an independent audit by the National Board for Safeguarding Children into allegations against priests in the diocese between 1975 and 2011. He also asked the auditors to review the cases of three deceased priests, including Finnegan.
The audit report said the allegations were brought to the former Bishop of Dromore and passed on to the relevant authorities.
But it added: “In some instances, the practice followed placed too much emphasis on maintaining the name of the accused priest rather than ensuring the safety of children.”
Dr McAreavey took over as bishop in 1999, with the auditors noting he had reported all allegations of abuse in Dromore since then and had taken an active interest in supporting victims.
He also apologised for conducting Finnegan’s funeral Mass in 2002.
“Since becoming bishop in 1999, everything I have learned about the abuse of victims I have learned from victims,” he said. “It is their testimonies and their stories which have impacted most on me.
“It is through their perspective that I realised that my decision to say the funeral Mass of Malachy Finnegan in 2002 was the wrong one. In November 2002 a victim told me how hurt he was by this, I realised that I had made an error of judgment.
“It is something I regret and will not repeat.”
He also acknowledged the need of many abuse victims to receive an apology, counselling and compensation.
Regarding Finnegan, he said: “He has caused hurt, which in some cases may never be healed.
“He has devastated families, including his own, and his former colleagues also feel betrayed by his behaviour.”
The board of governors said it condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the physical, sexual and emotional abuse inflicted by Finnegan.
It advised any other victims to contact the PSNI and said the school placed the “highest importance” on child protection, in line with Department of Education regulations.
It added: “The abuse that Malachy Finnegan inflicted is the antithesis of all that the college stands for in terms of its aims, objectives, ethos and culture, and it is a matter of absolute regret and sorrow that such behaviour should ever have occurred in St Colman’s College.””