Bishop John McAreavey informs Pope Francis of resignation

Resignation letter: Bishop John McAreavey
Resignation letter: Bishop John McAreavey

Bishop John McAreavey has confirmed he has written his letter of resignation to Pope Francis today following controversy over his handling of a clerical sex abuse case.

The Catholic Bishop of Dromore said today he was resigning “with a heavy heart” and had wrestled with the decision over recent weeks.

Father Malachy Finnegan. (Pacemaker Belfast)

Father Malachy Finnegan. (Pacemaker Belfast)

He said recent media coverage had “disturbed and upset many people”, and he urged his parishioners and the clergy of the parish to pray for the abused and suffering.

His resignation was announced on Thursday, a month after he met parents from a Co Down primary school, who along with families from three other schools, said they did not want him to officiate at their children’s confirmation because he said Requiem Mass for Father Malachy Finnegan.

Fr Finnegan was a former president at St Colman’s College, Newry and had been accused of paedophilia as far back as 1994.

Bishop McAreavey admitted he had made “an error of judgement” by officiating at the 2002 funeral.

It also emerged that Dr McAreavey had said Mass in 2000 alongside the priest, despite Fr Finnegan having been accused of child sex abuse.

Allegations about the disgraced teacher and cleric Father Finnegan were highlighted in a recent BBC Spotlight programme, although the first allegation against him came to light in 1994.

Since the programme aired, three other sex abuse victims are said to have come forward, joining 12 others who made similar claims up to 2016, which the Co Down Diocese admitted it was aware of.

In a letter today to the people, religious and clergy of the Diocese of Dromore, Bishop McAreavey said:

“Today I am writing my letter of resignation as Bishop of Dromore to Pope Francis.

“I do so with a heavy heart. I wrestled with this decision over recent weeks; it was not an easy decision to take.

“Following recent media coverage which has disturbed and upset many people, I decided on Thursday to resign.

“I would ask you first and foremost to continue to hold in your prayers those who have been abused and all who are suffering at this time.”

Bishop McAreavey said that until new arrangements for the leadership of the Diocese are in place, Canon Liam Stevenson, the Vicar General will take responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the Diocese.

“As regards the celebration of Confirmation, the priests of each parish have been delegated to minister this Sacrament,” he said, adding:

“To serve as Bishop of Dromore, my home Diocese, has been the greatest privilege of my life, though not without its challenges.

“Finally, I want to say thank you for your kindness and co-operation over my time as Bishop. Please keep me in your prayers, as I will keep you in mine.”