Irish Bishop: Priest Wasn't a Mass Murderer

Chides Journalists for Spinning Political Agenda

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DERRY, Northern Ireland, AUG. 30, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The retired bishop of Derry is protesting assumptions from the media that a priest, recently implicated in a police report on the 1972 Claudy Bombing, was guilty of mass murder.



Bishop Edward Daly stated this in an opinion article published today by the Irish News, in which he responded to a public report from a police ombudsman for Northern Ireland published Aug. 24 regarding the Claudy Bombing of July 31, 1972.

The tragedy involved three car bombs and resulted in nine deaths, including an 8-year-old girl and two adolescents.

The recent police report implicated Father James Chesney, who was at that time a priest at a nearby parish, but died in 1980 at age 46.

Bishop Daly, who headed the Derry Diocese from 1974 to 1993, stated: "Does anyone sincerely believe that if Cardinal [Cahal] Conway and my predecessor Bishop [Neil] Farren believed a mass murderer was in the Church's ranks they would have permitted him to continue in the active priesthood?

"I cannot believe they would have omitted to tell me when I was appointed as Bishop of Derry in 1974 if they had for a moment believed one of the priests in my future diocese was a mass murderer."

"Mass murder cannot be compared with any other sin or crime," the prelate affirmed. "It is the foulest and most obscene of deeds."

"I witnessed mass murder at first hand in 1972," he recalled. "I am more aware than most of how appalling and grotesque it is and the enormity of it."

The bishop continued, "It is a huge insult to suggest I would knowingly allow someone whom I knew to be a mass murderer to serve as a priest in my diocese."

Journalist coverage

Bishop Daly lamented the media's coverage of the recent police report, noting that "the once sacrosanct presumption of innocence has been dispensed with and replaced with a presumption of guilt."

"Now, media portray as fact unsubstantiated claims emanating from agencies whose history is anything but clean," he noted.

The prelate said, "I find media coverage of the Claudy Report very disquieting."

He harkened back to a time years ago when journalists "soared above the pressures of spin from government and combatants on all sides" and "did not sheepishly follow Establishment or State."

He noted that the press has put forth only "theories," and has "not questioned key aspects of the ombudsman's report."

The bishop asserted, "I am not at all convinced that Father Chesney was involved in the Claudy bombings."

Skeptical

The prelate admitted "constructive scepticism" about these allegations against the priest, arising from "personal involvement in several major miscarriage of justice cases."

He continued: "I have seen convictions based on signed admissions and forensic evidence completely overturned years later.

"Father Chesney was never arrested, questioned, charged or convicted. He cannot answer for himself. He has been dead 30 years."

The prelate noted that when he himself lived in South Derry during those years, "I was often terrified and humiliated by the treatment and delays I experienced at security force checkpoints as I returned from confirmations and other pastoral duties late at night."

In this light, reflecting on the strict law enforcement at that time and in the following years, the prelate asserted, "Why was the ombudsman unable to find evidence against him after years of investigation?"

Nonetheless, the bishop underlined the importance of carrying out a thorough investigation, stating, "Claudy has at last received its legitimate and long overdue recognition as one of Northern Ireland's most despicable acts of terror."

He concluded, "I will continue to pray that 'the truth will out.' The families, the community and Father Chesney's relatives need to hear it."