The New York Times has urged the Catholic Church and the British government to ‘come clean’ over their cover up of a priest who was allegedly in the IRA and carried out deadly bombings.
Senior police believe Father James Chesney was leader of an IRA unit that planted bombs in the Derry village of Claudy in 1972 that cost nine people their lives and injured thirty others. Among the dead were an eight year old girl and a teenage boy .
After top level meetings between the British government and the Catholic Church Chesney was never prosecuted for the crime and was transferred to a parish in the Irish Republic. He died in 1980.
The Times editorial noted that coming clean “even belatedly, is essential for rebuilding the trust of the province’s Protestant and Catholic communities in their government and police. Without that trust, the long peace process cannot be completed.
“This week’s report on the Claudy affair was limited to investigating the actions of the police. The British government and the Roman Catholic Church now need to address their own roles in this cover-up. Every honest reinvestigation and every overdue apology helps heal the wounds and cement the peace.”the editorial concluded.
In other developments two former police officers say they were prevented from arresting Chesney by higher ups.
One officer, a former RUC special branch officer contacted the BBC and stated he was within 15 minutes of searching Father Chesney’s home in County Derry but was abruptly told by superiors that “things were under control and not to go” to the priest’s house.
The officer said that there was special branch information that Fr Chesney was the “IRA’s director of operations in south Derry.” He also said he had “good sources within the Provisional IRA in south Derry” validating this information.
He said he wanted to have Chesney arrested. “I’d heard he had a large amount of firearms in the parochial house and I rang my boss and said, ‘If I don’t hear within half an hour, I’m going there’, ” he said. “They gave me an answer back in about 15 minutes that things were under control and not to go.”
“I was just told, ‘leave it alone, we are looking after it’. The next thing I heard was that he was transferred to Malin Head (in Donegal),” he added.
He said he was never told why Fr Chesney was not arrested. He believed Chesney was linked “to other atrocities in south Derry like car bombs”.
A second officer told the BBC he was in the mortuary in Derry when the victims were brought in. “I can assure you that the decision not to pursue Mr Chesney was not made at a low level. It was not made by those investigating this or in any way associated with it,” he said.
This was made by one or two senior officers and I think it’s wrong . . . for people to come on and talk about the RUC in a collective or general way. That was not the case,” he added.
“This was, I think, a face saving exercise for the Catholic Church. If anyone had really wanted to deal with that particular man, they could have. They certainly wouldn’t just have moved him over the Derry/Donegal Border where he could have still carried on doing what he had been doing.”
However the former IRA bomber Shane Paul O’Doherty told the Irish News that while he was a senior figure in the IRA in Derry in the early to mid-1970s he never heard of Father Chesney .
“If Father rChesney was involved in the IRA unit that bombed Claudy and if he was later still involved in the IRA while based in Malin Head, Donegal, it is extraordinary that IRA persons in the Derry brigade never heard of him until 2002 and were never able to make use of any of his services in the early or mid-1970s in Derry city or in Donegal,” he said.
In 2002 the case was reopened after a fellow priest wrote anonymously to authorities saying Chesney had confessed the crime to him.