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Bishop ‘wrestled’ with resignation.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Bishop ‘wrestled’ with resignation. thumbnailDr McAreavey has resigned as Bishop with immediate effect.

PARISHIONERS who attended Mass on Sunday heard that Bishop John McAreavey had "wrestled" with the decision to resign.

A statement on behalf of the Bishop was read out to parishioners across the diocese at Mass four days after he announced he was standing down from his position amid growing controversy around the Catholic Church's handing of paedophile priest Fr Malachy Finnegan.

Just weeks ago Dr McAreavey apologised for celebrating Requiem Mass for Fr Malachy Finnegan, a paedophile and former president at St Colman's College in Newry. Fr Finnegan, who died in 2002, has been accused of sex abuse by 12 people.

Dr McAreavey admitted he made "an error of judgment" by officiating at the funeral of a man whose actions he described as "abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible".

The bishop, who has also spoken to a victim of Fr Finnegan's, said that his decision to say the Mass "was the wrong one".

The allegations came to light following a BBC Spotlight programme, however the first abuse claim against Finnegan came to light in 1994.

However, six years after Bishop McAreavey first became aware of the allegations against Fr Finnegan, Finnegan was allowed to help Bishop McAreavey celebrate a Mass to mark the 150th anniversary of the Clonduff parish.

The paedophile priest was vested - robed in garments - at the Mass in 2000, although he was not the main celebrant.

A spokesperson for the Catholic diocese of Dromore said Bishop McAreavey had been "very surprised" at Fr Finnegan's "unannounced attendance" at the Mass.

In excerpts from The Outlook in 2000, it was reported that during that service to mark the 150th anniversary of St John the Evangelist Church, Ballymaghery, Bishop McAreavey "was assisted" by a number of priests who had at one stage previously served in or were natives of the parish.

This list included Fr Finnegan's name.

It has been reported that because Fr Finne g an's ill health made him "increasingly difficult to manage", a last-minute decision was taken not to confront him before the Mass.

A spokesman said the bishop visited Fr Finnegan a few days later and remonstrated with him for attending the Mass.

In a brief statement released through his personal solicitor, Banbridge-based Arthur J Downey, last Thursday (1 March), the 69-year-old said: "Following media reports which have disturbed and upset many people in the diocese and further afield I have decided to resign with immediate effect,. I shall make further comment in due course." This was seen as an unusual move as previous Irish bishops have typically had their resignations announced by their own diocese.

His resignation came amid growing calls for a public inquiry into clerical abuse in Northern Ireland.

"Today I am writing my letter of resignation as Bishop of Dromore to Pope Francis," said Bishop McAreavey.

"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.

"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," said Bishop McAreavey.

A number of parents at local schools, including St Patrick's PS in Hilltown, had raised concerns prior to his resignation, that they did not want the Bishop at their children's confirmations, which take place in just over two months' time. They did so after hearing that Bishop McAreavey, who was chair of the board of governors at the school, told parishioners in the Dromore diocese that he first became aware of allegations against Fr Finnegan in 1994.

"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," said the Bishop in his statement.

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