Tyrone priest speaks of ‘dismay’ over scandals

AS the Catholic Church reels from a week of accusations regarding child abuse and secret payments to victims, Newtownstewart parish priest Fr Stephen Kearney believes it may not be the last of the “bad news.”

Derry Dioceses, which includes the Newtownstewart parish, has been at the centre of one of the scandals when it was revealed that Bishop Seamus Hegarty had been accused of being involved in a £12,000 compensation deal to cover up alleged child sex abuse.

He was one of three priests named in a confidential civil settlement after an eight-year-old girl was abused over a decade from 1979.

The civil action was settled out of court in December 2000 and was signed by lawyers on behalf of Dr Hegarty, Bishop Edward Daly and the alleged abuser without admission of liability.

Bishop Daly was named in the court papers, but at the time his duties were being carried out by another bishop due to illness. Bishop Hegarty said the confidentiality clause was not proposed by him.

Bishop Hegarty said the family involved brought it to the attention of the diocese in January 1994 and the police and social services were notified in 1995. Bishop Hegarty also said the priest left parish ministry in 1995.

Fr Kearney described a feeling of “dismay” within the church at the recent revelations.

“It would be a concern that anyone who abused children would in any way be seen to be buy their way out of it.

“It would also be of concern that anybody with authority or responsibility for them would contribute to their escaping proper procedures. Children and vulnerable people who have in any way been emotionally, physically or sexually assaulted should be taken care of and proper procedures set up to make sure this can’t happen again.

“Also, those who carry out these activities, or crimes, must be dealt with and put in a situation where they cannot do it again. There is an overall sense of dismay and shock that it has actually happened.”

The Tyrone PP also cautioned that some of the loudest critics may be using the situation to lambast church people or those in prominent positions, while not putting the “sensitivities of the victims first.”

He added, “I think it is a bit too soon to be thinking that what we have heard is the total sum of all the bad news.

“It is too soon to say we know exactly what we have to do and how we have to go forward.

“We have all had our minds sharpened and our intentions made more firm so that we will go forward with much more consciousness of the possible damage and danger can be done through, even good people, not being sufficiently strong and speaking out or acting properly to protect others.”