Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, resigns


Bishop Dr John McAreavey, at the centre of a controversy for officiating at a paedophile priest’s funeral, has resigned as the Co Down Bishop of Dromore.

In a statement released by his solicitors Arthur J Downey, the bishop said his resignation is to take “immediate effect”.

In the two-line statement, Dr McAreavey 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.”

Last month 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 Fr Malachy Finnegan, a paedophile and former president at St Colman’s College Newry.

Even before parents voiced their concerns, Bishop McAreavey admitted he had made “an error of judgment” by officiating at the 2002 funeral of the paedophile teacher whose actions he described as “abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible”.

The Bishop, who has also spoken to a victim of Finnegan, said that his decision, made when he was a priest, to say the mass “was the wrong one”.


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  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    It seems to me that there are some basic misunderstandings in this episode.

    Consider the implications. If Bishop John McAreavey made an error of judgment by officiating at the funeral of Malachy Finnegan, does this mean that it would have been a error of judgment also for any other priest or lay-person to do so? Does it mean Malachy Finnegan would have been denied a Christian funeral? Which of us then would be the next to be refused?

    It is also a misunderstanding of our funeral rites. During the Troubles there was at times criticism of the Catholic Church for conducting a Catholic funeral for some people who had been involved in violence. But a Catholic funeral is not first of all a eulogy, a celebration of the life of the deceased person. It essentially involves prayer for God’s mercy for the person, an act of faith that the Paschal Mystery of Jesus is not just for the many, but for all; not just for those we may adjudge not such bad sinners, but for all, whom we refuse to judge.

    What compounds the situation is that, as far as I am aware, there were allegations against Malachy Finnegan, but he was not found guilty by due process. I’m not dismissing the word of those who made the allegations. I’m saying that we are in very dangerous territory if it’s a matter of “guilty because accused.”

    I do not know whether John McAreavey has convincing evidence that Malachy Finnegan was guilty.I do not know whether Malachy Finnegan was innocent or guilty, and he cannot now defend himself. It is important that, insofar as possible, we respect the maxim of “Audi alteram partem” – make sure we hear both sides. Any human justice system is imperfect. Notwithstanding that, it is important that we allow whatever justice system we have to operate, while looking to how we can improve it.

    We know something of the serious damage done when false allegations are made, especially of sexual abuse of children. But even if the allegations were or will be proven true, this is not a reason to refuse the guilty party a Christian, Catholic funeral.
    “Kyrie eleison”. “Miserere mei Domine”.

    Psalm 129 – De Profundis:
    From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord …
    If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities,
    who, O Lord, shall stand?
    For with you is forgiveness;
    and because of your law, I stood by you, Lord…
    For with the Lord there is mercy,
    and with him is plenteous redemption.
    And he will redeem Israel
    from all his iniquities.

  2. Tony Flannery says:

    I fully agree with Padraig’s first point. I have no difficulty at all with John McAreavey resigning, but apologizing for celebrating a funeral Mass seems to me to be a contradiction of one of the most fundamental, indeed central, parts of our faith; the mercy of God is unlimited and unconditional.
    If we start implying by our actions that there are exceptions to that, then our whole belief falls apart. Who wants a God who only has compassion on some sinners, and not others.

  3. Sean O'Conaill says:

    I fear that the significance of Bishop McAreavey’s resignation and statement has been missed here. The Irish News, Belfast, reports this morning that the bishop had resigned on foot of media reports that he had concelebrated Mass with the accused priest in 2000, a mass held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the parish of Clonduff.

    The paper also reports the Dromore diocese as explaining that Dr McAreavey had been ‘shocked’ to find that Fr Malachy Finegan had turned up and had robed for that service in 2000, before the bishop’s own arrival. But “ill health at that time made him increasingly difficult to manage, therefore a spur of the moment decision was taken not to confront him just before the Mass started.”

    Would that decision have been taken if the congregation then in 2000 had known what Dr McAreavey knew – that credible accusations of sexual abuse had been made six years previously against Fr Finegan?

    It seems to me that what is plainly illustrated here is that of parallel worlds created by accusations known to clergy, but not yet known to congregations – and the horrific dilemma that can follow in such a situation. What might have ensued in 2000 in that parish of Clonduff if a row had started in the vestry at that point? Was it indeed the better decision to avoid such an eventuality by ‘keeping up appearances’?

    Note the consequence of saying ‘yes’ to this! That clergy, including bishops, can be expected to ‘keep up appearances’ in such situations – so clerical appearances are not to be trusted.

    Yet again the Irish preference for kicking cans down roads comes back to haunt all of us. Can all clerical sympathisers with Bishop McAreavey please spare a thought – and far more than one – for the parishioners of Clonduff? The current parish priest has reportedly moved out of the parochial house because of testimony that serious abuse occurred there, and there is even reported talk of razing the building.

  4. Eddie Finnegan says:

    As a non-clerical sympathiser with Bishop McAreavey, may I recall an earlier concelebration in which the original Judas participated? Not sure what the rest of the disciples made of Jesus’ broad hint if they overheard it.

    ps. No, I’m not related to Malachy Finnegan, and I’m glad the last of my three younger brothers had left St Colman’s a year or two before the new Spiritual Director arrived.

  5. Sean O’Conaill says:

    #5 The Gospel, a church document, makes the presence of Judas at the Last Supper totally transparent. The parishioners of Clonduff learned of Fr Finegan’s and Bishop McAreavey’s situation in their parish church in 2000 from secular media eighteen years later. Is not that the obvious reason for the bishop’s resignation, and for his wise decision not to claim a Gospel precedent instead? To do so would also have been to put himself in the role of victim, as Jesus, the approver of Judas’s presence, was also the person betrayed by Judas. Thank goodness this possibility did not occur to Bishop McAreavey!

  6. Brendan Cafferty says:

    I find aspects of Bishop McAreavey’s resignation disturbing. As others have pointed out does the Church have the option of deciding who will get a Christian burial,which is an occasion of praying for mercy,not a celebration, and if a bishop cannot be on the altar,can an ordinary priest? Where will the line be drawn,did IRA and other killers not get full Church funerals in the past. Much is made of the mass in Clonduff, and I think the Bishop’s explanation is reasonable in those circumstances.

    Now it would be an entirely different matter if the bishop had covered up any abuse,failed to act, moved the priest on etc.Guilt by association is a non runner in the criminal law here.Bishops have to have rights too.

  7. Eddie Finnegan says:

    #6 Sean, you may have misread my slightly cryptic reference to that ‘earlier concelebration’. My allusion to my namesake as ‘Judas’ was not that he betrayed his bishop by turning up for Clonduff’s sesquicentenary, leaving John McAreavey in an awkward predicament, but that he had for decades betrayed the Master, his priesthood and the young entrusted to his care as spiritual guide, teacher, school leader and pastor.
    It is certainly true that Bishop McAreavey missed many opportunities both before and after Finnegan’s death to be as frank with Clonduff parishioners and St Colman’s old students of the 1970-mid1980s era as he seems to have been with Bishop Brooks in the mid-1990s and again with the NBSCCCI audits in 2005 and 2011. Razing the old parochial house, like erasing Finnegan from all St Colman’s GAA archives, may be more a way of discouraging graffiti than of drawing a line under the past. The Church should remember its villains, but also pray for them.

    And yes, Bishop John McAreavey deserves our sympathy.

  8. Rory Connor says:

    Two quotes from the ACP article:
    “Bishop Dr John McAreavey, at the centre of a controversy for officiating at a paedophile priest’s funeral, has resigned as the Co Down Bishop of Dromore” AND
    Bishop McAreavey admitted he had made “an error of judgment” by officiating at the 2002 funeral of the paedophile teacher whose actions he described as “abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible”.

    No guilty verdict – not even a court case as far as I know. Does Bishop McAreavey operate on the principle of “Guilty until proven Innocent”? Is he unaware of the history of false allegations made against Catholic clergy and religious in Ireland? I attempted to summarise such allegations here
    Are There Very Few False Allegations of Rape and Child Abuse? [3]

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