Mary McAleese: Priest abused my brother at Newry school

Former Irish president Mary McAleese. Photo: Pat Moore.
Former Irish president Mary McAleese. Photo: Pat Moore.

Former president of Ireland Mary McAleese has said her brother was abused by a Catholic priest at a school in Newry.

She is now calling for an independent inquiry into abuse at St Colman’s College in Newry, Co Down.

Speaking to Irish broadcaster RTE, former president McAleese said her youngest brother hadn’t said anything about the abuse he suffered at the school until recently, at the age of 49.

He had been “seriously, physically, sadistically” abused by the now-deceased Fr Finnegan, Ms McAleese said.

Fr Finnegan was employed at St Colman’s College in Newry from 1967 to 1987, including a period from 1976 as school president, and is accused of abusing at least 12 people.

Controversy surrounding Fr Finnegan has already caused the resignation of the Bishop of Dromore, Dr John McAreavy.

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

Before his resignation, bishop McAreavey admitted he had made “an error of judgement” by officiating at the 2002 funeral of Fr Finnegan, whose actions he described as “abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible”.

Abuse victims had later called on the bishop to resign, after it emerged he had said Mass alongside Fr Finnegan in 2000 despite having been aware of abuse allegations made against him.

Announcing his resignation in a letter to ‘People, Religious and Clergy of the Diocese’ dated March 2, 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.”

He added: “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.”

Mary McAleese added. “Who knew what and when? An independent inquiry is warranted.”

Last week, the former president had urged the pope to visit Newry in the wake of the sex abuse scandal, and attacked the Catholic church over its “codology dressed up as theology”.

Speaking at a press conference in Rome on Wednesday, Ms McAleese also lambasted the Vatican, saying she fears the church hierarchy has “reduced Christ to this rather unattractive politician who is just misogynistic and homophobic and anti-abortion”.

In her address, the Belfast-born lawyer said that if the pope comes to Ireland in August, he should add Newry to his itinerary due to the clerical child sex abuse allegations which led to Bishop John McAreavey standing down.