Bishops Address Priest's Alleged Role in '72 Bomb

Say Deceased Suspect Is Now in God’s Judgment

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ARMAGH, Northern Ireland, AUG. 24, 2010 ( Two Irish prelates responded to a police report published today about the 1972 Claudy Bombing, in which a priest is implicated in the crime. The prelates affirmed that the Church did not cover up any criminal activity.

Cardinal Sean Brady, archbishop of Armagh, and Bishop Séamus Hegarty of Derry responded with a joint statement to today’s public report from a police ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

The Claudy Bombing of July 31, 1972, involved three car bombs and resulted in nine deaths, including an 8-year-old girl and two adolescents.

The prelates affirmed that «we can never lose sight of the terrible human cost of this atrocity. Nine people died, including children. Many were injured. Many more were rendered homeless or had businesses destroyed or damaged. The entire community of a small rural town was traumatized by a horrific attack on innocent people.»

No criminal intent

However, regarding the alleged role of the Church in the attack, the cardinal and bishop made a few clarifications.

«All known material in the possession of the Catholic Church has been made available to the ombudsman,» they affirmed.

Given Church condemnation of violence, they added that it is «shocking that a priest should be suspected of involvement in such violence.»

Father James Chesney, the priest at a nearby parish, is implicated in the bombing according to today’s report. Father Chesney died in 1980, at age 46.

«This case should have been properly investigated and resolved during Father Chesney’s lifetime,» Cardinal Brady and Bishop Hegarty affirmed. «If there was sufficient evidence to link him to criminal activity, he should have been arrested and questioned at the earliest opportunity, like anyone else.»

Citing the police report itself, the prelates stated: «We acknowledge the finding of the police ombudsman that: ‘With regard to the role of the Catholic Church, when informed of the level of concerns others had about one of their priests, they challenged Father Chesney about his alleged activities, which he denied. In the course of this enquiry the police ombudsman’s investigation found no evidence of any criminal intent on the part of any Church official.'»

«The Catholic Church did not engage in a cover-up of this matter,» the prelates affirmed.

In fact, they added, as the ombudsman notes in his statement today, «the Church was approached by the [Northern Ireland] secretary of state at the instigation of senior members of the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary, the forerunner of the current Police Service of Northern Ireland].

«Furthermore, the Church subsequently reported back to the secretary of state the outcome of its questioning of Father 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 Father Chesney.»

Father Chesney was transferred to a parish in the Republic of Ireland, but Cardinal Brady and Bishop Hegarty cited the ombudsman’s statement, which pointed out that the priest regularly travelled across the border but «was never arrested, questioned nor further investigated by the RUC in connection with the Claudy bombings or other terrorist activity.»

«Father Chesney is dead and, as a suspect in the Claudy bombing, he is beyond the justice of earthly courts,» the prelates continued. «Clearly a number of people were involved in the planning and carrying out of this terrible atrocity, some of whom may still be alive. Those bereaved and injured deserve to know the truth. We appeal to anyone who has information in relation to this horrific crime to provide it to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.»

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