Wednesday 22 May 2019

Mary McAleese's brother pens letter: 'I saw abuse every day in school run by paedophile priest'

Mary McAleese and her brother Clem Leneghan who penned a letter detailing the 'sadistic' abuse perpetrated by Malachy Finnegan (inset)
Mary McAleese and her brother Clem Leneghan who penned a letter detailing the 'sadistic' abuse perpetrated by Malachy Finnegan (inset)

Claire O'Boyle

THE brother of Mary McAleese has told of the “culture of bullying, violence, intimidation and secrecy” presided over at his school by paedophile priest Malachy Finnegan.

The former President’s youngest sibling, Clem Leneghan, said “Malachy Finnegan was a sadist” who terrorised children at St Colman’s College in Newry, Co Down.

An emotional Ms McAleese spoke about the abuse on radio yesterday, and is calling for an independent inquiry into the “legions” suspected to have been abused.

“My youngest brother, my baby brother, the youngest of nine children, was seriously, physically and sadistically abused by Malachy Finnegan,” she revealed.

Finnegan, who taught at St Colman’s from 1967 to 1976 has been linked to a catalogue of abuse against pupils.

Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey resigned earlier this month, after it emerged he had decided to celebrate funeral Mass for Finnegan in 2002, despite being aware of his past.

In a recent letter to the ‘Belfast Telegraph’, Mr Leneghan described the “destructive, criminal” abuse that went on “every day” at the school during his time there.

“Throughout my seven years as a pupil at St Colman’s in the 1980s, something rotten was allowed to fester at the core of that school – I saw it every day.

“Thankfully I never experienced sexual abuse there – and I feel intense sadness for those who did – but I was one of many who suffered other forms of abuse, which Finnegan knew about and allowed to flourish.

“He had a duty to protect but chose instead to indulge his destructive, criminal urges.

“He presided over a culture of bullying, violence, intimidation and secrecy.”

Mr Leneghan (49), a film and TV production safety consultant, wrote: “These experiences shape young lives and have complex, damaging echoes long into adulthood for many – I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s such a shame that Finnegan isn’t around to face justice and his many victims. Can he have been able to get away with this for so long without other adults in the school or diocese turning a blind eye or actively protecting him? Will they now be called to account for their silence, their complicity?”

Meanwhile, Ms McAleese said an independent inquiry is necessary to investigate the diocese of Dromore.

She revealed how for decades her close-knit family had been kept in the dark about the abuse Mr Leneghan suffered.

“All my brothers, four or five (of them) went to that school. My wonderful, beautiful brother, and the youngest of the family, is so incredibly loved by all of us. To think he suffered and never felt he could tell anyone... So many people in the school had to have known, so many people who could have done something about it.

“We know now the very first complaints about Malachy Finnegan go back to the 1970s not the 1990s at all, which means there’s a body of information well known to people in the position to do something about it but didn’t. What frightens me is we only find this out all these decades later... the culture of silence was so oppressive and these children were made so fearful.”

Ms McAleese said she and her family had once been well acquainted with Bishop McAreavey. “I know John McAreavey well, he was a regular visitor to our home.”

She told RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke how her brothers had gone on trips with Bishop McAreavey and even stayed in the same house as him, as children.

“John was always very kind and good to them,” she said. “But there are huge questions to be answered by all senior people involved in that school and in the dioceses, as to what they knew and when they knew it. It shouts for an inquiry really. I think an independent inquiry is warranted.”

She added: “There are legions, the silent sufferers, they carry it with them all their lives.” Finnegan, who was president at St Colman’s College for 11 years before moving to Clonduff as parish priest in 1988, died in 2002.

St Colman’s College has promised to “co-operate fully” with any investigation. The Catholic bishops have also said they will fully co-operate.

Irish Independent

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