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Cardinal: Church did not cover up role of ‘terrorist’ priest

By on Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson holds his report into the 1972 Claudy bombings (Photo: AP)

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson holds his report into the 1972 Claudy bombings (Photo: AP)

Cardinal Seán Brady has denied a “cover-up” after an investigation concluded that the Church conspired with the Government and police to relocate a priest suspected of one of the worst atrocities of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

The NI Police Ombudsman revealed that Fr James Chesney, a suspect in a 1972 bombing that killed nine people, was moved to the Irish Republic in a secret deal.

But the Archbishop of Armagh said the Church was not involved in a cover up.

“The Church was approached by the secretary of state at the instigation of senior members of the RUC,” Cardinal Brady said. “Furthermore, the Church subsequently reported back to the secretary of state the outcome of its questioning of Fr Chesney into his alleged activities. The actions of Cardinal [William] Conway or any other Church authority did not prevent the possibility of future arrest and questioning of Fr Chesney.”

Terrorists detonated three car bombs in the centre of Claudy, a village in Co Londonderry. Although no paramilitary organisation ever claimed responsibility, the Provisional IRA were believed to be responsible for the attack. But it was also rumoured locally that Fr Chesney, who died in 1980 of cancer, was involved.

In 2002, the Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, began a probe into the original investigation. His report found that detectives in 1972 had concluded that Fr Chesney was an IRA leader and had been involved in the bombing.

He said that by agreeing to a deal between the Government and the Church to move Fr Chesney to a parish in the Irish republic, the Royal Ulster Constabulary was guilty of a “collusive act”.

He said this had compromised the investigation and the decision “failed those who were murdered, injured or bereaved” in the bombing.

Mr Hutchinson said some detectives’ attempts to pursue Fr Chesney were frustrated ahead of a meeting between Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw and the leader of Ireland’s Catholics, Cardinal Conway, in which the move was agreed. The RUC’s Chief Constable, Sir Graham Shillington, was made aware of this decision.

Fr Chesney denied involvement in terrorist activities to his superiors and was never arrested. It is thought the authorities believed that Fr Chesney’s arrest at the time, during the worst year of the troubles, in which 476 people were killed, would push the province into civil war.

Five Catholics and four Protestants were killed in the attack, including an eight-year-old girl and two teenage boys. The youngest victim, Kathryn Eakin, was cleaning the windows of her family’s grocery store at the time.

  • AndyFrankophile

    If the State believed that the arrest of the clergyman would plunge Northern Ireland into full scale civil war then it was entirely right not to prosecute even if it believed it could achieve a conviction. It never got anywhere near a trial and it is ridiculous to have a newspaper trial now. Without a trial in those dreadful days in Northern Ireland it is impossible to try and blame this or that organisation. Please explain why the police ombudsman has prepared a report in the first place.

  • QuodEratDemonstrandum

    How is moving a priest suspected of being an IRA leader and murderer 200 miles North into a different jurisdiction in a different country NOT a “cover-up” ? I suppose that's “not a cover up” the same way that moving suspected paedophile priests from parish to parish is “not a cover-up.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-1

    This just follows the pattern of the Catholic church protecting its own in preference to and at the expense of other people, including faithful catholics (it was their children who were abused)! The Vatican's perspective is to protect it's priests (even if guilty), its reputation and treasure and damn the consequences to the rest of the world – including its own followers and their children

    Before any loyal catholics start posting apologetics for this horror, please remember that children were indiscriminately murdered: “Five Catholics and four Protestants were killed in the attack, including an eight-year-old girl and two teenage boys.”

  • QuodEratDemonstrandum

    So even if the priest was guilty of murdering 9 people, including children, it was entirely reasonable for the State to move the priest out out the jurisdiction and prevent investigation and prosecution in order to prevent a greater evil (civil war)

    so by extension of your reasoning

    If the State believed that no one should be denied civil rights or subjected to discrimination and bigotry then it was entirely right to allow same sex marriage and adoption.

    If the State believed that it must eliminate disease by developing cures then it was entirely right to promote stem cell research

    If the State believed that AIDS is deadly disease affecting millions then it was entirely right to provide condoms to protect its citizens and people in the developing word

    Why publish this now? A CATHOLIC PRIEST may have MURDERED 9 people including children. That is legitimate news. It's just news that is mighty inconvenient to the Vatican.

  • John

    Was Fr Chesney punished in any church-disciplinary way one he arrived Donegal, or later? And if not, why not?

  • Feldon

    Before forming a view on this matter, I would urge all readers to watch the short interview with Bishop Edward Daly now available on the BBC News website. In it, Bishop Daly states his doubts as to whether Fr. Chesney was ever a member of the IRA, something Fr. Chesney denied twice in interviews with the bishop in the 1970s. Bishop Daly points out that there is still no evidence about the priest's activities, only the report of “intelligence” gathered by Special Branch and the RUC. He makes clear his view of what the quality of that could be in 1972. In view of his reputation and his role in the “Troubles”, Bishop Daly's opinions are scarcely to be brushed aside.

    Of course, this matter should have been fully investigated in 1972, though it is easy to laty down the law now about what should have been done fin that fraught year from the safety of forty years on.

  • Feldon

    I am afraid that twitchy fingers and technical ineptitude led me to post this comment prematurely and before I had corrected my final sentence below. If I may wind back and resume……

    Of course this matter should have been fully investigated in 1972, though it is easy to lay down the law about what should have happened in that fraught year from the safety of forty years on. The church authorities could hardly refuse to move Fr. Chesney when requested to do so by the Secretary of State but we cannot assume that they thought he was a terrorist. He denied this to his superiors when they questioned him (as he did to Bishop Daly later) and it seems that they reported that denial back to the British. In the event, they did not move him far (certainly not 200 miles!) and he was still within their jurisdiction. Hard facts are still in very short supply in the Chesney case. The assumptions implicit in yesterday's handling by the media of the omdudsman's report should not blind us to that. It may be too late now but an independent investigation of all the horrible events surrounding the Claudy bombings would best serve the cause of justice.

  • AndyFrankophile

    I do not understand your analogy at all. The article spoke of civil war.
    The priest, who is now dead, the then archbishop who is now dead all denied
    the charge. Unless a charge like that is contested in court I am
    certainly not prepared to believe it. He was not prosecuted according to
    the article because there was a fear that to do so would cause a civil war
    at the time. If you are not prosecuted then you are not guilty. At the
    most you have a case to answer. I have no idea why an ombudsman of the PSNI
    is making a report now. I hoped someone would explain. What this has
    to do with the case you mention I am afraid I fail to see.

    ————————————————–

  • Mephistophiles

    Because the Catholic Church have a history of sweeping criminal activity under the carpet. This exactly the type of behaviour we are to expect.

  • Mephistophiles

    I concur.

  • Mephistophiles

    A typically Catholic attitude – things are always better swept under the carpet and not discussed for the purposes of justice and decency.

  • Mephistophiles

    If you are not prosecuted you are not guilty? What insane reasoning skills you have. The crime happened – somebody is guilty, whether a prosecution occurs or not. The evidence points to him – the only reason they didn't prosecute is because of the delicate situation of the time (which is in no way a good reason not to prosecute). So by your reasoning, he's not guilty because civil war would have broken out if he was to be prosecuted. You might want to think a little harder about that. I thought a Catholic, like yourself, would have had a more nuanced understanding of guilt.

  • QuodEratDemonstrandum

    You said: “If the State believed that the arrest of the clergyman would plunge Northern Ireland into full scale civil war then it was entirely right not to prosecute even if it believed it could achieve a conviction” – Andyfranophile

    The underlying logic can be expressed as: “If the State believed X then it was entirely right to do Y”

    You are arguing from an ethical position of consequentialism (what are the consequences of doing X or Y). This is a form of relativism usually harshly criticized by catholics who favour dogma and damn the consequences(No contraception, even if the consequence is the spread of AIDs, death and orphaned children)

    If that logic is convincing to you, you may be agreeing with a lot of State actions that are diametrically opposed to Vatican policy

    If the State believed that no one should be denied civil rights or subjected to discrimination and bigotry (X) then it was entirely right to allow same sex marriage and adoption (Y)

    If the State believed that it must eliminate disease by developing cures (X) then it was entirely right to promote stem cell research (Y)

    If the State believed that AIDS is deadly disease affecting millions (X) then it was entirely right to provide condoms to protect its citizens and people in the developing word (Y)

  • QuodEratDemonstrandum

    ” If you are not prosecuted then you are not guilty” – AndyFrankophile

    Nonsense. Loads of people are guilty of crimes without having been prosecuted and convicted for various reasons: they die before trial, escape the jurisdiction, are found to be mentally incompetent or have a mistrial. Sometimes, guilty people are even protected by the Pope and the Vatican.

    Marcial Maciel was a child rapist even though he was not prosecuted. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1577304/

    It is possible that James Chesney was not guilty of this crime but the Catholic Church moved him to another jurisdiction in another country to ensure no one found out the facts and no prosecution ensued. Cover up and obstruction of justice is not the same as innocence.

  • Feldon

    In reply to Mephistophilis

    You say that “the evidence points to him (Fr. Chesney)”. But what evidence have you seen? Have you special information? For all I know, he may have been guilty, though he denied it on more than one occasion. Your own reasoning seems to be that because he could have been prosecuted therefore he was bound to be guilty. None of us would be safe if the law proceeded on that basis.

    Equally, it seems to me to be unjustifiable to assume that Fr. Chesney was not prosecuted because of the fear of civil war. I suppose that this is a plausible theory but there are other possibilities. Again we have no actual evidence. With so many of the leading characters dead, it may be that an independent investigation is now infeasible. However, filling in the gaps out the air is no kind of substitute.

  • Mephistophiles

    “You say that “the evidence points to him (Fr. Chesney)”. But what evidence have you seen? Have you special information?”

    The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland confirmed that Chesney was involved in carrying out the Claudy bombing, and that the police, British government and Catholic Church conspired to keep that fact a secret.

    “Your own reasoning seems to be that because he could have been prosecuted therefore he was bound to be guilty.”

    You should read my posts more carefully – I never said that at all.

  • Feldon

    In reply to Mephistophilis (again)

    I am sorry to have to correct you but the Police Ombudsman has not “confirmed that Chesney was involved in carrying out the Claudy bombing”. What he says (para.7.3 of his report) is that “intelligence, which the RUC obtained in the weeks and months following the Claudy bombings, presented significant investigative opportunities which were not pursued in relation to Fr. James Chesney's alleged involvement in the atrocity.”

    All of us would now agree that it is a shame that they were not. As well as testing the quality of Father Chesney's denials, there would also have been an opportunity to test the quality of the RUC's intelligence, an equally important consideration. The intelligence itself is summarised (but not described in great detail) earlier in the report.

  • David Armitage

    But the Archbishop of Armagh said the Church was not involved in a cover up.
    Of course not.
    Prelates don't fib. Unless the Church's credibility is at stake.