Catholic Church, UK govt in bomb cover-up: report

CLAUDY, Northern Ireland Tue Aug 24, 2010 1:06pm EDT

Tracy Deans, whose great uncle James McClelland died in the bombings of Claudy in 1972, stands for photographers with a copy of the report by the Police Ombudsman, Claudy, Northern Ireland, August 24, 2010. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Tracy Deans, whose great uncle James McClelland died in the bombings of Claudy in 1972, stands for photographers with a copy of the report by the Police Ombudsman, Claudy, Northern Ireland, August 24, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

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CLAUDY, Northern Ireland (Reuters) - The UK government, the police and the Catholic Church colluded to protect a priest suspected of involvement in a 1972 bombing in Northern Ireland that killed 9 people, a report said on Tuesday.

The Police Ombudsman's eight-year probe revealed a cardinal was involved in moving Father James Chesney out of British-ruled Northern Ireland, highlighting anew the way the Church hierarchy shielded priests from allegations of criminal activity.

The inquiry showed former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw had a private meeting with Cardinal William Conway, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in which they discussed the possibility of transferring Chesney.

"I accept that 1972 was one of the worst years of the 'Troubles' and that the arrest of a priest might well have aggravated the security situation," Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson said. But "the decision failed those who were murdered, injured and bereaved in the bombing."

No one was ever charged or convicted for the triple car bomb attack on the rural village of Claudy. Those killed included a 9-year-old girl and two teenage boys.

Chesney, a priest in a neighboring parish, always denied any involvement, though the police had intelligence that he was the South Derry leader of republican guerrilla group, the IRA, and a sniffer dog found traces of explosive in his car when he was stopped at a checkpoint in September 1972. He died in 1980.

The current head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, who has been under pressure to resign over his role in concealing sex abuse cases, denied the Church took part in a cover-up.

"He (Cardinal Conway) was faced with an impossible situation but his primary consideration would be the prevention of any further acts of violence," said Cardinal Sean Brady.

One of the relatives of those killed told reporters that she had been told the priest had continued his IRA activities after being transferred to Donegal in the Irish Republic in 1973.

"This is an absolute disgrace. It is an absolute outrage," said Tracey Deans, whose grandfather was killed. "I would like to know how many more people suffered because of him."


July 1972 was the bloodiest month in the bloodiest year of three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland and the Claudy bombings came six months after British soldiers shot dead 13 unarmed civilians in a civil rights march in Londonderry.

A photograph of a Catholic priest waving a blood-stained handkerchief in front of a fatally wounded marcher being carried through the city was the defining image of "Bloody Sunday."

The police may have feared that arresting a priest over the Claudy attack could have triggered a fierce backlash among Northern Ireland's minority Catholic population.

The British government made an historic apology two months ago for "Bloody Sunday" and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, said on Tuesday he was "profoundly sorry" that the victims of Claudy had been denied justice.

Calls for a South African-style truth commission into the decades-long conflict is unlikely given the still shaky concord between groups that want to keep Northern Ireland part of Britain and those that want a united Ireland.

A senior police officer wrote in November 1972 that, rather than arrest Chesney, "our masters may find it possible to bring the subject into any conversations they may be having with the Cardinal or Bishops at some future date..."

Conway's protection of Chesney echoed action by the Catholic Church to shield priests from allegations of child sex abuse. Scandals over the abuse and the cover-ups have helped topple the Church from its once dominant position in Irish life.

The key police officers in the Claudy bombing are now dead but the ombudsman said that had they been alive their actions would have been investigated.

(Writing by Carmel Crimmins; editing by Tim Pearce and Nina Chestney)

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Comments (6)
chardwell wrote:
Yet another example of incredible bigotry towards Catholics. Naturally the accusation falls upon a dead man, so there is little chance of rebuttal. Not surprisingly, Reuters used this opportunity to offer commentary on the Church’s sex scandal. That’s consistent with your anti-Catholic bias. The primary cause of violence in Northern Ireland was the shocking discrimination practiced against the Catholic population in the region. Nice to see nothing has changed.
Oh, and the key police officers in the case are also dead, which make the accusation even more difficult to refute. But keeping stoking the flames, you miserable propagandists.

Aug 24, 2010 11:16am EDT  --  Report as abuse
WRL wrote:
If indeed the priest was involved in inciting violence, the church made the correct move in this case. Revelation of his involvement and the subsequent punishment of the priest would have only incited even more violence from both sides.

Comparing these events to the more recent sex scandals seems logical, but the two don’t really match up. The actions mentioned in this article did indeed prevent additional violence. The movement and protection of the sex offender priests was a selfish move on the part of the church to protect the priests at the expense of common Catholics and the proper execution of the law.

The idea that a priest would encourage violence of this nature is almost unthinkable. Either Father Chesney is the worst kind of criminal, or he’s the victim of terrible slander. I really don’t know which to believe.

Aug 24, 2010 12:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
tipu420 wrote:
sooo had this been a Muslim Imam.. This would be on Billboards in all languages in all parts of the World.

This shows the hypocritical nature of the West towards Islam vs. their own Christian belief

Aug 24, 2010 1:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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