Bishop who officiated at sex abuser’s funeral resigning ‘with a heavy heart’

Dr John McAreavey defended by nephew amid claims of ‘vindictive’ media campaign

Bishop John McAreavey said he was resigning with a “heavy heart” over the controversy surrounding his officiation at the funeral, in 2002, of Fr Malachy Finnegan, a child abuser.

In a letter on Saturday to parishioners in his diocese, which covers parts of counties Antrim, Armagh and Down, he said: "Today I am writing my letter of resignation as Bishop of Dromore to Pope Francis. I do so with a heavy heart."

His letter coincides with fresh calls for a public inquiry into the Catholic Church’s handling of clerical child sex abuse in Northern Ireland, with campaign groups welcoming Dr McAreavey’s resignation.

However, the bishop was defended by his nephew John McAreavey, the widower of Michaela Harte, who said his uncle had been “vilified” in the media.


“Uncle John has dedicated his life to God and to serving others. He has always acted with people’s best interests at heart,” the former Down Gaelic footballer wrote in a social media post.

“To see some media use vulnerable people to achieve a ‘demonstration of perceived power’ is both callous and vindictive. We need to care for people by listening and trying to right the wrongs of the past, not using their plight for personal gain.”

Amnesty International and the Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia) campaign group has called for a public inquiry into clerical sexual abuse in the North after the revelations of abuse by Fr Finnegan.

Fr Finnegan has been accused of sex abuse by 12 people to date, with more victims coming forward since BBC Northern Ireland broadcast a Spotlight programme about him last month.

The Spotlight reporter Mandy McAuley revealed that in 1994 the bishop of Dromore at the time, Francis Brooks, asked Fr McAreavey to look into an allegation of abuse involving Fr Finnegan.

The allegation was not reported to police until 2006. Dr McAreavey, who became bishop of Dromore in 1999, said he understood Dr Brooks had reported the allegation to public authorities.


It was disclosed also that in 2000 Fr Finnegan appeared alongside Dr McAreavey at a Mass in Hilltown parish, in Co Down, to mark the church’s 150th anniversary. Fr Finnegan is alleged to have seriously abused one boy over many years while he served in the parish. Dr McAreavey has expressed regret for saying Fr Finnegan’s funeral Mass.

Margaret McGuckin from Savia welcomed Dr McAreavey’s resignation, saying “he knew he had to go”.

Backing calls for a public inquiry, she said: “The police and church are not doing enough, not taking it seriously enough, and the so-called safeguarding practices are quite obviously not in place or working effectively.”


Amnesty’s Northern Ireland programme director, Patrick Corrigan, said the Fr Finnegan case was “yet another example of how paedophile priests appear to have been facilitated by the church authorities in continuing their vile abuse”.

In his resignation letter, Dr McAreavey said: “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.”