Death of a priest

John McCullagh died a couple of days ago. He was a Catholic priest – or as the Belfast Telegraph  describes him, a “pervert priest” who “took his secrets to the grave, never having faced justice”. The report goes on to talk about how McCullagh “fled” to a Maghera nursing home when it was revealed that he had sexually abused an eight-year-old girl over a seven-year period. “Other victims did come forward in the wake of the Belfast Telegraph expose, but McCullagh never faced justice in court”, The paper then goes on to talk  about “his vile actions”.

I haven’t followed the case of Fr McCullagh so I don’t know any more than the Telegraph  tells me. However, I did know John McCullagh when he was a young man in the town from which we both came – Omagh. He was older than me and I remember him on occasion playing football with my brothers.  Since his death I’ve talked to a number of people who knew him, as a priest in Derry City and elsewhere, and they’ve been emphatic if not loud in his praise (it doesn’t do to be too loud when saying positive things about “pervert priests”), speaking of the amount of good work he did  over the years. The Telegraph doesn’t talk about this part of his life – in fact it seems resentful that McCullagh will be buried “with full religious honours”.

My guess is that McCullagh was like the rest of us – a mixture of good and bad. In the old days, the Catholic Church was rightly criticised for being obsessed with sexual sin, before which all other sins shrank into nothing. These days, the same people who would have been emphatic in their criticism of the Church for this are themselves most vocal in elevating sexual abuse to the exclusion of all other sins, in this case to the point where they are unhappy about how McCullagh’s body is lowered into the grave.

When we measure the worth of a life,  logic and justice demand that we assess all of it, not just the parts or actions  we select from it.  We know that John McCullagh had dark areas as well as clear areas in his life – as do we all.  Maybe we should leave the stone-throwing to those among us who are without sin. Like the Belfast Telegraph. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

26 Responses to Death of a priest

  1. Anonymous May 12, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    The Belfast Telegraph describes Fr Mc Cullagh as “never having faced justice”.As I understand it,there was an out of court settlement with no admission of liability.So clearly there was a civil action with a confidentiality clause which the complainant choose to break.What is not clear is whether a formal complaint was ever made to the police.Presumably if there was sufficient cogent evidence,the matter might well have reached the criminal courts and given the victim the justice which the paper claims she desired.No doubt this journalist and her paper are paragons of virtue.

  2. Anonymous May 12, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

    Your comments seek understanding for Fr McCullagh but do not express a single word of sympathy for the girl who reported that she had been sexually abused by him for over a decade from the age of eight. Your contributor of 17.03 who is even more hostile to the complainant might reasonably explain why Fr McCullagh chose to pay her £12,000 and send her a letter apologising for the pain and distress he caused and asking for her forgiveness.

  3. Anonymous May 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Anonymous 21 46
    Of course one would want to be sympathetic to the complainant in this case.However the normal way to achieve justice in such matters is to make a complaint to the police who will investigate the allegation and refer to the P P S.I may be wrong but from the Telegraph account,this route seems not to have been followed.Clearlyi if Fr Mc Cullagh chose to pay £12000 in an out of court settlement ,he acknowledged some wrongdoing and he deserves criticism for that.It would have been so much better if his actions had been aired in the proper forum of a Court.It appears that the complainant chose the alternative of going to the media.

  4. Jude Collins May 13, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Anon 13:22 – I agree with your point re sympathy for the victim – I can’t imagine what kind of mind wouldn’t have sympathy. But I don’t know that forking out £12K is acknowledgement of wrongdoing. His apology would suggest he concedes wrong-doing but the £12K could have been seen as worth paying to stop someone accusing you (i.e., him) in public. Anyway, we’ll never know.

  5. Anonymous May 13, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    Jude, although you say you cannot imagine what kind of mind would not have sympathy for the eight year old victim, your piece above considers her case but does not express a single word of concern for her. Anonymous of 13.22 says that the `normal’ way to achieve justice in such matters is to make a complaint to the police, which completely ignores the realities of life in Derry city when the offences took place between 1979 and 1989. The same correspondent says that the complainant chose to go the media when it is at least equally likely that the approach was made in the opposite direction.

  6. Jude Collins May 14, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    Well, Anon 23:41, I think it’s fair to say that the victim has received unquestioning support from a wide variety of sources. I wasn’t addressing the injustice done to her, I was talking about Fr John MCullagh and the obsession – and it really is an obsession – with the sexual crimes of the Catholic clergy, while other crimes by them and other institutions and individuals (you’re more likely to be abused by your uncle than by your local priest) go unexamined. Time to get the scales a little more level, I think.

  7. Anonymous May 14, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    Anonymous 23 41 seems to be more acquainted with the detail of the case and I suppose we must defer to his/her account of local perceptions towards the police during the defined period.His/her suggestion that the initial approach to the complainant came from the Belfast Telegraph is more worrying and tends to reinforce your point about media obsessions towards the Catholic Church.My recollection is that Radio Foyle subsequently jumped on the bandwagon and gave substantial coverage to the whoe story.

  8. Anonymous May 15, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    There seems to be a fair amount of confused thinking in this discussion. Jude initially wrote, `I haven’t followed the case of Fr McCullagh so I don’t know any more than the Telegraph tells me.’ However, he then openly sympathises with Fr McCullagh rather than a child who was abused at the age of eight and goes on to say; `I think it’s fair to say that the victim has received unquestioning support from a wide variety of sources.’ It is difficult to understand how he can make judgments of this kind without engaging in proper research.

    We then have anon of 12.44 on May 14 who finds it `worrying’ that a newspaper might have approached a victim of sex abuse to establish the truth of the matter,and then complains about `media obsessions’ and other outlets which `jumped on the bandwagon.’ What really would be worrying is finding individuals who are not interested in the facts behind sex abuse and would prefer if the details were kept out of the public domain. It is precisely this kind of approach which has had such dreadful consequences for the reputation of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

  9. Jude Collins May 16, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    Anon 23:28 – Listen up. ‘He then openly sympathises with Fr McCullagh’. (i) What do you mean, ‘openly’ – is sympathising with a priest something to be hidden? (ii) As it happens I don’t so much sympathise with him as ask that ALL of his life be taken into account when forming judgement. The figure at the top shows Justice blind-folded. Selection of part of a life suggests otherwise. As to my statement that ‘the victim has received unquestioning support’ and the need to research it. I say ‘I think it’s fair to say’ – hardly a hardline definition of fact. Besides which you can demolish such a contention by citing, say, two or three examples where the victim did NOT receive support. Thing is, you see, I’ve never read or heard anyone be other than sympathetic of victims – and you can include me in that, by the way.

  10. Anonymous May 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    I have no specific knowledge of the facts of this case and once again I would defer to those who are more familiar with the practices and procedures of press investigation .I would normally have assumed that a disgruntled victim would approach a paper/reporter.I have certainly no difficulty with the facts of sex abuse being highlighted in the press but had naively assumed that with an apparent “confidentiality clause” in place, there might be some problem with press ethics.As shown above,Jude can more than adequately speak for himself ,but I’m guessing that blog relates to the inconsistencies of sections of the media in reporting details of sex abuse.

  11. Anonymous May 16, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    The point you seem to be missing is that Fr McCullagh was not any priest but one who paid £12k and sent a letter of apology to a girl who had accused him of abusing her from the age of eight. If, as you say, you have never read or heard anyone who was other than sympathetic to such victims, you might try running your eye down the piece at the top of this page. It refers to people who were `emphatic if not loud’ in their support of Fr McCullagh but does not manage any comment on the consequences of his actions towards a vulnerable child.

  12. Jude Collins May 16, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    Anon 20:58 – two points. 1 – The fact that someone is supportive of Fr McCullagh does not preclude the possibility of sympathy with the victim. I should have thought that was obvious. 2. Because one does not pronounce one’s feelings about a subject, do you seriously believe that means they have negative feelings towards that subject? Crikey. That would leave us all very remiss on, literally, millions of counts.

    • Anonymous May 16, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

      She said McCullagh would take her for drives in his car and that “there is not a road in either Co Derry or Donegal that I wasn’t abused on”. (Quote from last week’s ‘BT’ report)

      But no action against Fr McCullagh was ever taken by the PSNI

      And no other charges of abuse against Fr McCullagh appear to have been made – or certainly haven’t been made publicly.

      Could there be more to this affair than meets the eye ?……

      We may never know – but the BT’s decision to use the occasion of Fr McCullagh’s death to rehearse its well-aired story from 2010 helps no-one associated with the case.

  13. Anonymous May 16, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

    It is striking that you have now contributed an article and four follow-up comments which spell out your sympathy for Fr McCullagh without expressing a view on his victim. That does not leave you remiss on millions of counts but just one – the plight of a little girl in Derry city all those years ago.

  14. Jude Collins May 17, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    Anon 23:35 – You are entitled to your opinion on what I am or am not remiss on, just as I am entitled to think that your reasoning is warped. I repeat (for the last time) that the girl who was the victim in this case has received no negative commentary of any kind that I know of but has (not surprisingly) received universal sympathy. My concern in the article and my follow-up comments was to point out that John McCullagh, like everyone else (perhaps excepting your good self) was a mixture of bad and good, but that the good had been totally erased in the picture of him that is presented in the reporting about him. I’d even go so far as to say that much of the criticism of Catholic clergy sexual abuse has been limited in its vision and knee-jerk in its response. This continual pressing of ‘Why don’t you say you have sympathy for the victim?’ reminds me of the continual pressing we used to hear about the IRA ceasefires – ‘Why don’t they say it’s permanent?’ It also reminds me of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, where people were called on to denounce the devil and if they didn’t they were presumably in league with him. Miller’s play, of course, was based on McCarthy’s famous House UnAmerican Activities Committee – witch-hunting at its finest.

  15. Anonymous May 17, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    While I have and will continue to have differences of opinion with Jude on many of his blogs,I would support his right to articulate his well reasoned views on this particular topic.He has reiterated his sympathy for the victim but this seems not to be sufficient for some posters above.All of us would agree that sexual abuse can never be right but the reporting of it by some newspapers borders on the obsessive and dare I say sensational.

  16. Anonymous May 17, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    Anon of 12.09 is entirely wrong when he claims that Jude has reiterated his sympathy for the victim of Fr McCullagh. Not only has Jude avoided expressing a single word of direct concern for the girl in the course of an article and five follow-up comments, he has suggested that the very idea he should do so can be compared to the Salem witch trials, the pressure on the IRA to declare a permanent casefire and what Jude describes as `McCarthy’s famous House UnAmerican Activities Committee’. There is a possibility that Jude may be slightly overstating his case, and it also needs to be gently pointed out that Joe McCarthy was the chairman of the Senate Committe on Government Operations and had nothing to do with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee which was in a separate institution. However, we can at least say that we now know where Jude stands on the issue under discussion.

  17. Jude Collins May 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    Anon 22:05 – thank you for being gentle with me and you are of course quite right – McCarthy merely modelled his style on that of the HUAC. Mea maxima culpa. However, I didn’t compare ‘the very idea of expressing sympathy” for victims with witch-hunting – I compared the attitudes towards Catholic clergy and towards anyone who wouldn’t publicly state their sympathy with victims in general and specific victims should that be required, and the interpretation of the ‘failure’ to do so as meaning they didn’t sympathise with victims. Could I (gently of course) suggest you read Miller’s play again and see if you can’t spot parallels?

  18. Anonymous May 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    Let’s be clear Jude, you are fully entitled to offer your detailed thoughts on the case of Fr McCullagh without expressing any concern for his eight year old victim. What is striking is that, as well as explaining your sympathy for Fr McCullagh, you also have a track record for speaking up in defence of other men who have engaged in the physical or sexual abuse of children

    Raoul Thomas Moat had a long record of violence against women and children. He repeatedly threatened a former girlfriend and went on to serve a jail sentence for assaulting a nine year old child. Immediately after his release, he went to his former girlfriend’s house and shot her new partner dead. He shot his former irlfriend in the arm and abdomen, leaving her seriously injured. The following day, he shot an unarmed police officer in the face and left him both seriously injured and permanently blind. A huge manhunt followed, prompting you to write `I feel more than a twinge of sympathy for this man, so completely outnumbered by the pursuing police…I hope he gets away’ (July 8, 2010). Moat was subsequently surrounded and shot himself dead.

    You contributed two different pieces in which you set out to defend Jimmy Savile after comprehensive details of his activities emerged through television documentaries. Firstly, you wrote; `Saville’s dead, so we’re free to draw our conclusions and make our judgements. And the judgement, from what I hear everybody saying, is guilty. Mightn’t stand up in a court of law, or hasn’t so far, but hey – who needs a court of law? We know what we know and you can’t libel the dead.’ (October 4, 2012)

    More than two weeks later, after numerous witnesses provided further statements about Savile’s offences, you said; `Everybody now seems agreed that Saville was guilty of these crimes, although nobody I’ve heard from yet has offered conclusive evidence. I really think someone should, and soon, otherwise it’s going to be a case of everyone’s-saying-it-so-it-must-be-true, which is a very dangerous way to try someone’ (October 22, 2012).

    The pattern here seems unmistakable, but, if you feel these quotes are out of context, or you have subsequently revised your position, you only have to say so.

  19. Anonymous May 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    It appears from Anonymous 16 14 that Big Brother is watching you.Anything that you write may be used against you in evidence!

  20. Jude Collins May 18, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    Anon 16:14 Thanks for your thoughts and yes, you haven’t /couldn’t give the context fully but I have no quarrel with your line-up of quotations. Maybe it’s just that when I see the world and his mother pile onto a band-wagon of condemnation, I instinctively pull back and try to see if the moral outrage is supported by clear evidence. Take J Saville – and lots of other BBC guests who’ve been emerging from the woodwork, or rather outed from it. I suspect that all of the accusing voices can’t be making it up and that he was guilty of ghastly things, but I haven’t seen hard evidence and I wonder where the innocent-until-proved-guilty thing went. As for Mr Moat – indeed, the facts speak for themselves – but I’m afraid I still feel a twinge of sympathy for the person against whom all the forces are aligned. Illogical, yes indeed, but it’s also the truth. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies where the baddie is cornered and I know what’s going to happen next as he sweats and shakes. So yes, I accept your charge – I do tend to speak out for people against whom everyone else seems to be gunning. Sometimes I do it in an instinctive way, sometimes because I feel there’s an absence of evidence. I’m also aware that we get all these matters filtered through the media and knowing what I do of the media, I’m always aware that news gets packaged. It may not be quite the mirror-image of Jeremy Paxman’s ‘Why are these lying bastards lying to me?’ but experience has taught me not to believe all I I read/hear/see.

  21. Jude Collins May 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    Anon 16:31 – The thought had crossed my mind. On the other hand, they do say the opposite of being loved is not to be hated but ignored…

  22. Anonymous May 18, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    As you put it, Jude, `I do tend to speak out for people against whom everyone else seems to be gunning’. Siding with the underdog might be an admirable quality in some circumstances, but the individuals you identify with were in powerful positions and took advantage of the vulnerable.

    John McCullagh eventually apologised and paid compensation to the eight year old girl who reported his deviant behaviour as a priest. Jimmy Savile traded on his celebrity status to abuse hundreds of children. Raoul Moat was a physically strong woman-beater and child-attacker who attempted to become a serial murderer.

    When challenged about your clearly expressed sympathy for this trio, you offered the jovial response, `… they do say the opposite of being loved is not to be hated but ignored…’.

    Can you see that the victims of McCullagh, Savile and Moat might have a different view ?

  23. Anonymous May 19, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

    Anonymous 23 39
    While in no way minimising the trauma suffered by Fr Mc Cullagh’s victim,is there not a significant difference between him and Saville/Moat?

  24. Anonymous May 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Just some insight into this person from what I know. It was said he arrived in the Strabane parish under a “dark cloud”. Fr McCullagh was not visibly ill during his time in Strabane. He was obviously in good health, eating very, very well and hosting dinner parties for his friends. He served mass to nuns only, they did not like him. He left Strabane for this care home immediately after the story was published in the telegraph.

  25. Jude Collins May 26, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Anon 14:45 – You’re obviously a doctor but did you actually get a chance to examine Fr McCullagh when you assessed his state of health? And how on earth did you get to know what he ate? Amazing! And these dinner parties he threw for his friends, his saying Mass ( that’s what we Catholics call it) for the nuns only – and they didn’t like him! You do get around. I’ll know who to go to if ever I need a medical private investigator.