Northern Ireland

Fr Finnegan: Survivor speaks of sex abuse 'secret'

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Media captionSean Faloon was sexually abused as a child by Fr Malachy Finnegan

A County Down man who was sexually abused by a priest as a child said he did not speak out as he was told it would "ruin" the rest of his life.

Sean Faloon from Hilltown was first abused as an altar boy from the age of 10 by Fr Malachy Finnegan.

Fr Finnegan, who died in 2002, also abused boys at St Colman's College in Newry, where he taught from 1967 to 1976.

Twelve victims have come forward to the Catholic Diocese of Dromore.

'Help to lift boxes'

Speaking out for the first time, Sean Faloon told BBC News NI that Fr Finnegan abused him for a total of eight years - starting in 1989.

He said it was a gradual progression which started in the church vestry.

"He was hugging me a lot after a Mass and, then, the next time I was serving on the altar that hugging went a little further and lasted longer," said Mr Faloon.

"Then, at a later date that became kissing and it progressed from there over the next year or so to full sexual contact."

Mr Faloon said Fr Finnegan would call at his house after Mass and tell his parents he needed Sean to help him "lift boxes from the wardrobe, because he was too old to lift them himself".

'Don't disobey a priest'

"He told me if I ever came out about what was going on, or told anybody, it would ruin me for the rest of my life," said Mr Faloon.

"People would look at me and talk about me differently, and it would affect all aspects of my life so we had to keep it secret.

"I was too frightened to not do as I was told."

At the age of 17, Sean Faloon made an appointment with his GP and told him everything.

The doctor assured Mr Faloon that he was "dealing with it appropriately" and arranged for him to attend counselling.

Mr Faloon's family was then informed of what had happened, as were the police.

Bishop Brookes

Mr Faloon told the BBC that he never made a formal complaint against Fr Finnegan as he felt he was "too young to deal with the hassle".

"I wanted to deal with normal 17-year-old life," he said.

"I didn't want the pressure burdening my family, so I just simply made the police aware of what had been going on.

"More than anything else, so if anyone else reported it that they had that to back it up."

Mr Faloon recalls raising the matter with the then Bishop of Dromore, Francis Brookes.

"He suggested I steer away from outside counselling services as they could be steering me in the wrong direction, and could lead me in the wrong direction," claims Mr Faloon.

'God will forgive you'

As a result, he says that Bishop Brookes arranged for him to complete counselling sessions with a nun.

Mr Faloon recalls meeting a nun "six or seven times" at an empty building that was similar to a "small office block".

"We would go into a room down a corridor," he said.

"The room had simply two chairs and an empty desk. Absolutely no other furniture."

During the second last meeting with the nun, Mr Faloon says she told him that "given time, God will forgive you".

"It stayed with me, and angers me and my family to this day what she said," explained Mr Faloon.

He says the trauma of his sexual abuse still makes coming home to Hilltown too difficult.

BBC reporter Mandy McAuley has been investigating this story for several months for a forthcoming BBC NI Spotlight programme.

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