Thursday 22 February 2018

Prelate casts doubt over 'Provo priest' claim

John Cooney Religion Correspondent

The retired leader of the Catholic Church in Derry yesterday said he still does not know if Fr James Chesney was a member of the IRA or if the cleric took part in the Claudy bombing 38 years ago.

Bishop Edward Daly cast doubt on last week's report of the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, which, he says, "aired suspicions" about the Derry priest that were based solely on intelligence reports.

And he criticised the media for presuming that Fr Chesney was guilty of the bombing in which nine people were killed -- and that he was active in the IRA -- without coming up with concrete evidence.

"Everyone takes the same unquestioning line and competes to write the most lurid headline," Bishop Daly wrote in an opinion piece in the 'Irish News'.

"The once sacrosanct presumption of innocence has been dispensed with and replaced with a presumption of guilt," he added.

"I am not at all convinced that Fr Chesney was involved in the Claudy bombings. I may be mistaken, but I do not think so."

Bishop Daly also rallied to the defence of the late Cardinal William Conway, then Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, who acceded to a joint approach from the British government and the RUC and moved Fr Chesney to a parish in Co Donegal.

In particular, Bishop Daly said it was strange that a Northern Ireland Office note of December 6, 1972, attributed to Cardinal Conway an uncorroborated description of Fr Chesney as being "a very bad man".

"This is a very mild commentary on someone alleged to be a mass murderer," Bishop Daly said. "I knew Cardinal Conway quite well during 1974-77. That was not a phrase he would use.

"It appears to me it was Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw's version of what the cardinal did or did not say.

"I cannot believe they (Cardinal Conway and his predecessor as Bishop of Derry, Neil Farren) would have omitted to tell me when I was appointed as Bishop of Derry in 1974 if they had for a moment believed one of the priests in my future diocese was a mass murderer.

"Perhaps Fr Chesney's conduct did spark suspicion that he was involved with the IRA. The pertinent questions must be, however, was he or was he not a member of the IRA? And, if so, was he involved in the Claudy bombing?" he said.

"The Ombudsman's report and the subsequent media reporting do not offer any evidence to help answer these questions."

Irish Independent

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