Friday, September 01, 2023

Head of Catholic Church in Ireland denies 'victim blaming' during meeting with child sex abuse survivors

Sean Faloon

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has this week denied an accusation of "victim blaming" following a meeting with a clerical sex abuse survivors group.

Primate of all-Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin met with a group of child sex abuse survivors in the Dromore diocese earlier this year.

The Dromore Survivors group say the Archbishop questioned a man who was abused as child by the pedophile priest Fr Malachy Finegan about his failure to take his case to police for a second time, after an initial report was not followed up.

Survivor Sean Faloon, who says he was raped "at least 350 times" by the late Fr Finegan, told Belfast Live he had first reported his abuse to police in the 1990s at the age of 17.

He told Belfast Live that, after walking into the police station in Newry, officers failed to take his allegations further in the absence of consent from his parents. Mr Faloon said he was three months shy of his 18th birthday at the time.

The Archbishop, former president of St Columb's College in Derry, is said in a record of the meeting taken by the Dromore Survivors group to have questioned Mr Faloon on why he did not return to police a second time to report his abuse again.

Mr Faloon, and the survivors group to which he belongs, have accused the Archbishop of "victim blaming" - an accusation denied by the Archbishop in a letter seen by Belfast Live.

The leader of the Catholic Church has already come in for criticism this week after inviting a top American Cardinal, who has faced repeated criticism for his handling of child sex abuse allegations, to celebrate a special anniversary Mass in Armagh.

On Sunday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan - Archbishop of New York - participated in a Mass to mark 150 years of St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh.

Child sex abuse survivors Sean Faloon, Tony Gribben and Chris O'Leary have all criticised the decision to invite Cardinal Dolan - in light of what Mr Gribben described as his "well publicised concerns around his poor handling of clerical sexual abuse in the United States".

Also present at the special Mass was Cardinal Sean Brady, who has also faced significant criticism for his handling of clerical sex abuse within the Catholic Church.

Mr Faloon has demanded Archbishop Martin's resignation following the Mass.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland is now under further scrutiny over his meeting with the Dromore group, held in February this year.

A record of the meeting maintained by the survivors group states that, during a discussion on former Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey, Mr Faloon had explained that he was a "young 17-year-old who was told he needed his parents’ consent" when he had first taken his case to police in the 1990s.

This came during a discussion on the lack of action taken over the accusations against Fr Finegan.

The record kept by the group adds: "Dr. Martin responded he should have returned to the Police when he was 18."

Tony Gribben, a fellow abuse survivor and member of the Dromore group, told Belfast Live: "By putting the responsibility on Sean to report Finegan to the police, Eamon Martin has manifestly engaged in victim blaming. The result was to compound shame, self blame and stress for Sean."

And in a letter sent to the Archbishop on behalf of the group, Mr Gribben wrote: "At this meeting you queried Sean Faloon's failure to contact the police regarding Fr Malachy Finegan's abuse when he turned 18 years of age. This issue was reported back and discussed at a meeting of the Dromore Group. The discussion concluded that your comment amounted to victim blaming.

"We are aware of incidences of victim blaming by other clergy abuse survivors beyond Dromore. We consider victim blaming by Church clergy as a continuation of the original abuse compounding distress and shame for behaviour over which those abused have no control."

In his reply, dated August 29, Archbishop Martin wrote: "I refute the suggestion that I was in any way involved in 'victim blaming' during this meeting. I am always anxious to support survivors of abuse and I would never wish to cause hurt in this way to victims of abuse who are certainly not to blame for the horrific and criminal things that were inflicted on them when they were innocent children."