A Catholic bishop’s decision to quit amid pressure over his handling of a clerical sex abuse case was the “right thing to do”, an SDLP MLA has said.
Bishop of Dromore Dr John McAreavey announced his resignation on Thursday, after it emerged he had said mass in 2000 alongside a priest he knew to have been accused of child sex abuse.
He had earlier expressed “regret” at having said funeral mass for the priest in 2002.
The priest in question, the late Father Malachy Finnegan, has been accused of sexual abuse by at least a dozen people. He was employed at St Colman’s College in Newry from 1967 to 1987 – including a period from 1976 onwards when he was school president.
He later moved to the parish of Clonduff in Hilltown near Newry.
He was never convicted of abuse, but St Colman’s board of governors has said that he sexually abused children while employed by the school.
Bishop McAreavey had said in a statement last month that the first allegation against Father Finnegan “came to light” in 1994, a second in 1998, with a further 10 being made after Father Finnegan’s death.
Victims, including Sean Faloon who told the BBC he was abused by Father Finnegan for eight years from 1989, when he was aged just 10, had called for the bishop to step down.
SDLP MLA for South Down, Sinead Bradley, commenting on the bishop’s decision to resign, said: “This was the right thing to do.”
SDLP councillor Gillian Fitzpatrick said people in the area are “relieved” following the bishop’s resignation.
She added: “It is about more than him resigning.
“It is about making sure that there’s the avenue there for every person affected to make sure they are heard.
“There are questions there for everybody. It is about openness and transparency.”
Past pupils of St Colman’s College, speaking to BBC Radio Ulster on Thursday and Friday, told of Father Finnegan’s behaviour at the school, with one describing how he had been “quite clearly pleasuring himself” in front of a class.
A spokesperson for the Board of Governors of St Colman’s said: “The board re-iterates its previous statement that it condemns in the strongest terms the abuse inflicted by Malachy Finnegan.”
It advised anyone hurt by Father Finnegan to go to the PSNI, adding that “the school will co-operate fully with any inquiry into historic abuse”.