Catholic World News

Irish bishop defends late priest linked to terrorist bombing

September 03, 2010

A retired bishop has come to the defense of the late Father James Chesney, who was linked in a recent report to a 1972 terrorist bombing in Northern Ireland.

“Everyone takes the same unquestioning line and competes to write the most lurid headline,” says Bishop Edward Daly, who led the Diocese of Derry from 1974 until 1993, when he resigned at the age of 59 following a stroke. “The once sacrosanct presumption of innocence has been dispensed with, and replaced with a presumption of guilt. I am not at all convinced that Father Chesney was involved in the Claudy bombings. I may be mistaken, but I do not think so.”

Bishop Daly continued:

Father Chesney was never arrested, questioned, charged, or convicted. He cannot answer for himself. He has been dead 30 years … Intelligence and evidence are completely different things. Why was the Ombudsman unable to find evidence against him after years of investigation? He found only these ‘intelligence reports,’ and 1972-type RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] intelligence at that. In the 1970s, there was wide­spread scepticism about RUC Special Branch intelligence. Hundreds were interned on such intelligence …

I do not accept theories-- voiced by several people in the aftermath of the report — about priests being en­dangered and a possible subsequent fallout in society if Fr Chesney had been arrested. Two priests were murdered by the British Army in Belfast just months earlier that year and there wasn’t exactly community uproar. Did anyone believe the mere arrest of an obscure priest in County Derry would worsen the already chaotic Ireland climate? Northern Ireland was a war zone in 1972. Some 500 people were killed.

The recent report linking Father Chesney to the bombing noted that after a December 1972 meeting between the British government’s Northern Ireland Secretary, William Whitelaw, and Cardinal William Conway of Armagh, the suspected priest was transferred to a new assignment in County Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland-- beyond the reach of police in Northern Ireland. Bishop Daly believes the real reason for his transfer may have been his influence on youth.

“I believe it possible that the RUC wanted Fr Chesney out of South Derry because of his publicly proclaimed Republican sympathies and a fear of the influence these might exert on young people in the area,” said Bishop Daly.

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  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Sep. 05, 2010 3:36 PM ET USA

    "I am not at all convinced [of Fr Chesney's guilt]" is about the weakest form of defense that one can offer. However, I'm sure that even in the UK and Republic of Eire, Fr Chesney is beyond human justice in 2010. Let the archivists and historians do their jobs now.