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Catholic diocese in Northern Ireland opens redress scheme for survivors of 'abhorrent' child abuse

A 2011 report found 35 allegations made against 10 priests in the Diocese of Dromore.

A 2018 protest in Belfast calling for an apology from the Vatican for clerical child abuse
A 2018 protest in Belfast calling for an apology from the Vatican for clerical child abuse
Image: J Orr/Alamy Live News

A CATHOLIC DIOCESE in Northern Ireland is establishing a redress scheme for survivors of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese.

The scheme is to provide financial redress, as well as offer a personal apology, counselling, and pastoral support for survivors and victims of abuse by any church representative in the diocese, where a 2011 report found 35 allegations made against 10 priests.

The Diocese of Dromore, which includes parts of Antrim, Down and Armagh, said it “apologises unreservedly” for the hurt and damage caused by any priest or church representative acting under its authority.

“The Diocese of Dromore finds such behaviour towards children and vulnerable people abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible,” it said in a statement.

“Having met with a number of survivors, and having examined the various existing legal claims against the diocese, Archbishop Eamon Martin wishes to facilitate a resolution process to enable the provision of financial and other supports for survivors without undue further delay,” the diocese said.

The scheme will be open to any victims and survivors of child sexual abuse by representatives of the diocese.

A panel will assess applications to the scheme that report sexual abuse, including grooming, that occurred while the applicant was a child.

“It endeavours to ensure a process which is victim-centred and aims to provide victims with recognition and reasonable compensation without the need for lengthy investigation and litigation,” the diocese said.

“The Diocese understands that redress may take varying forms. As well as enabling the provision of financial redress, the Scheme includes the possibility of a personal apology on behalf of the Diocese and other ways of providing pastoral support. The Diocese will also support the provision of counselling via the Towards Healing service,” it said.

“The Diocese is willing to commit whatever resources it has available for the purpose of redress to this scheme, even if that should exhaust those resources.

“The scheme will respond to applications where there are allegations of sexual abuse (including sexual grooming), which may or may not have been accompanied by physical and/or emotional abuse, and which occurred when the applicant was under the age of 18. All applications will be assessed by an independent panel, appointed via an independent process managed by a third-party organisation.

“In assessing applications the panel will have regard to all the available information and make its decision on the balance of probabilities and on a majority basis. The process will fall outside the civil litigation process and be comparable to a mediation. It is anticipated that the process will be informal in nature but is intended to be binding on the parties should a resolution be agreed.”

In 2011, reviews into the handling of child sexual abuse in six dioceses around Ireland found that the Catholic Church’s response to allegations was often inadequate.

The report from National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church identified 35 allegations in the Dromore diocese made against 10 priests, some of whom had died.

None of the priests with allegations against them had been convicted of an offence against a child.

The report found that the allegations had been reported to state authorities but that it had not always happened promptly.

A priest in the diocese who worked at a school in Newry, Malachy Finnegan, was accused of sexual abuse by 12 people.

The accusations, which were detailed by a BCC Spotlight programme in 2018, are said to have spanned four decades before his death in 2002.

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Former Catholic Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey resigned in 2018 after it emerged that he officiated the priest’s funeral.

Amnesty International said the diocese’s announcement highlights the need for a public inquiry into clerical abuse in Northern Ireland.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland programme director, said that clerical abuse was “not limited to one priest, one parish, one diocese or even one denomination in Northern Ireland”.

Corrigan said redress is “just one component of the justice to which victims are entitled and cannot be a substitute for an independent investigation”.

“That is why Amnesty is again calling for the Executive to establish a public inquiry into the scale and circumstances of clerical child abuse in Northern Ireland, not restricted to one diocese or one Church,” he said.

“We know the problem goes much wider. The Father Finnegan scandal is just one example of how paedophile clerics were facilitated by church authorities in continuing their vile abuse.

“It is just one example of how church authorities prioritised the protection of reputation over the protection of children and how the state authorities failed to investigate and intervene to end the abuse.”

With reporting from the Press Association

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Lauren Boland

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