“THE priest temporarily in charge of the Dromore diocese following the resignation of its bishop over the Fr Malachy Finegan scandal was involved in a parish service with the paedophile cleric – years after the Church learned of allegations against him.
Canon Liam Stevenson, parish priest of St Peter’s and St Paul’s in Lurgan, has taken responsibility for administration of the diocese following Dr John McAreavey’s resignation last week.
Dr McAreavey stood down after it emerged he celebrated Mass alongside Finegan in 2000 despite knowing he was a paedophile.
Finegan, who died in 2002, has been accused of sexual and physical abuse against boys on church premises and at St Colman’s College in Newry, where he was a teacher and later president. He was never questioned by police or prosecuted.
Canon Stevenson, Vicar General of the diocese, is also a former head of St Colman’s.
He and the diocese have not addressed questions about his former role, including when he first became aware of allegations against Finegan.
It has now emerged that Finegan took part in a service to mark Canon Stevenson moving to Seapatrick parish.
The service was held in September 2000 at St Teresa’s Church in Banbridge, the Newry Reporter revealed yesterday.
Finegan was pictured with clergy including former Bishop Francis Brooks, Dr McAreavey and Canon Stevenson.
The image was taken just weeks before Dr McAreavey concelebrated Mass with Finegan at his former parish, Clonduff in Hilltown.
The Dromore diocese had insisted that after 1995, Finegan “carried out no public ministry involving daily Mass”, but had “arrived unexpectedly” at the Mass in November 2000.
A spokesman said Dr McAreavey was “shocked” to see Finegan, but the priest’s “ill health at that time made him increasingly difficult to manage, therefore a spur of the moment decision was taken to not to confront him just before the Mass started”.
Finegan worked in St Colman’s from 1967 and was president of the college from 1976 to 1987.
Canon Stevenson was a teacher at the college from the 1970s, became vice-principal in 1993 and then president the following year until September 2000.
The Dromore diocese has said the first allegation against Finegan arose in 1994 and a second in 1998, while the others emerged after his death.
However, the PSNI said the Church first referred allegations against Finegan to police in 2006.
The Finegan controversy erupted last month after it emerged the Dromore diocese reached a six-figure settlement last year with one of his abuse victims.
Police have set up a dedicated team to investigate complaints of abuse involving the deceased priest.
Concerns that Dr McAreavey and other Church figures failed to tell police about allegations against Finegan are to form part of the investigation.
Dr McAreavey has said that when the first allegation emerged he told his superior Bishop Brooks, who died in 2010, of his responsibility to inform authorities.
He described Finegan’s actions as “abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible”, and admitted he made an “error” by officiating his funeral.
Dr McAreavey, who became bishop in 1999, said he faced a dilemma as victims were divided over whether Finegan’s past should be publicised, but he expressed regret at not speaking publicly sooner.
He said he had asked the Catholic Church’s clerical abuse watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children, to review the case of Finegan when it conducted an independent audit of all allegations against priests in the diocese in 2011.”