New administrator in Newry diocese criticised by priest

Bishop Philip Boyce expressed regret his focus on victims’ needs was not greater in the past

Bishop Philip Boyce, who has been appointed as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore until the new bishop is appointed. File image: David Sleator

Bishop Philip Boyce, who has been appointed as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore until the new bishop is appointed. File image: David Sleator

 

The Catholic diocese of Dromore has distanced itself from comments by a retired priest there who said he was “disgusted” at the appointment of Bishop Philip Boyce as its administrator this week.

Bishop Boyce (78) had been Bishop of Raphoe in Donegal since 1995 until he retired last year. He was appointed administrator of Dromore (which includes parishes in Antrim, Armagh and Down) after Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop John McAreavey.

That followed controversy over the diocese’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations made against former president of St Colman’s College, Newry and former parish priest at Clonduff/Hilltown, Fr Malachy Finnegan, who died in 2002.

In a BBC Radio Ulster interview this week Fr Eamon Murray pointed out that in 2011 Bishop Boyce was criticised for his handling of clerical sex abuse allegations in Raphoe.

He told The Nolan Show that the appointment of Bishop Boyce “rubs salt on the wound” of an already hurt community. “I think it is a disgusting appointment,” he said.

The statement from Dromore diocese pointed out that Fr Murray “is a retired priest of the Diocese of Northampton” who “lives in a property owned by the (Northampton) diocese and receives a pension from the diocese”.

It added that “while the diocese will continue to support Father Murray, it distances itself from the comments” in the interview.

In its December 2011 report on Raphoe diocese, the Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog, its National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), said it was “a matter of great regret to Bishop Boyce that his focus on victims’ needs was not greater in the past, and he now acknowledges that he has a very different appreciation of his safeguarding responsibilities as to when he first came into office”.

An August 2010 NBSC review of child protection in Raphoe found that 14 priests there had faced 52 allegations of abuse, four of whom had been convicted in the courts.

One case stood out, it said, and involved “serial paedophile priest” Fr Eugene Greene. In 2000 Fr Greene was jailed for 12 years after pleading guilty to 41 sample charges against 26 victims between 1962 and 1985.

The NBSC report continued: “It is clear that significant errors of judgement were made by successive bishops when responding to child abuse allegations.”

It found that “too much emphasis was placed on the situation of the accused priest and too little on the needs of their complainants.”

On Thursday, at the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Colman in Newry, Bishop Boyce prayed for Bishop McAreavey.

“I acknowledge Bishop John McAreavey’s ministry for the Diocese of Dromore for the past 19 years. May the Lord bless him at this time,” he said.

Speaking at the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass he told priests of the diocese, “I am not your bishop, but a person sent as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore until the new bishop is appointed.”

He added “I am here at this time to serve as your shepherd. On this significant day for you, I wish to declare wholeheartedly that my presence here today is to serve as your shepherd, shepherd of the people, religious, deacons and priests, of the young and the old, of the sick and the healthy, and most especially a shepherd of those who have been hurt in any way in the past.”