The Catholic bishops have said they will fully cooperate with any statutory inquiry into clerical child sexual abuse, following former President Mary McAleese's call for a public inquiry into the Church's response to child abuse allegations against Father Malachy Finegan.

Responding to the call by former President McAleese for a public inquiry into the Church's response to child abuse allegations against Finegan in the northern diocese of Dromore, a spokesman re-issued the bishop's statement on child safeguarding published following last week's regular Spring meeting of the hierarchy.

It recalled that the bishops met John Morgan and Teresa Devlin, the chair and CEO of the church-established National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI).

It continued: "Irrespective of improved standards, vigilance and greater awareness, bishops agreed that the Church can never become complacent concerning the safeguarding of children.

"Bishops reflected on the immense suffering caused to children and vulnerable persons by abuse. 

"They emphasised the shared responsibilities of Church and statutory authorities for prompt reporting, robust risk assessment, concrete action to prevent further abuse, and meaningful outreach to victims in support of the healing process and to assist their search for justice."

The statement does not refer to Bishop John McAreavey's resignation earlier this month over protests by abuse survivors and parishioners over his failure to restrict Finegan to private ministry because of his paedophilia. 

However, the statement concluded by reiterating the bishops' commitment to both the review process of dioceses undertaken by the NBSCCCI and their "full cooperation with any inquiry required by statutory bodies."

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the NBSCCCI's 2011 audit of the diocese of Dromore while Dr McAreavey was still bishop, maintained the practice of not identifying alleged perpetrators of priests who abuse, even after their deaths. Finegan had died in 2002.

However, a spokesman for the NBSCCCI identified the references to Finegan.

The audit concluded that most of the abuse cases involving Finegan had been managed under Dr McAreavey's leadership after his appointment as bishop in 1999.

However, in some cases, it concludes his predecessor, Dr Francis Brooks, had "placed too much emphasis on maintaining the good name of the accused priest rather than ensuring the safety of children".

The report notes that Bishop McAreavey had dealt personally with many of Finegan's victims and the reviewers said they were "impressed by the personal interest Bishop McAreavey has taken in supporting these victims and their families, some of whom he remains in contact with".

The NBSCCCI review also states that while deceased priests' cases do not come within its Terms of Reference of the review, Bishop McAreavey discussed them with the reviewers and in particular one case of a deceased priest against whom there were several allegations.

"From the records it appears that these allegations were initially brought to the attention of the former bishop," it states.

"The reviewers note the seriousness of the allegations and are satisfied that all have been referred to the statutory authorities."

It comes as former President McAleese earlier called for an independent inquiry into the Catholic Church's response to child abuse allegations against Malachy Finegan, a former president of St Colman's Grammar School in Newry, Co Down.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, she said her youngest brother was seriously, physically, sadistically abused by Finegan and it continued for all the years he attended the school.

Mrs McAleese said her elderly mother only discovered this when the Belfast Telegraph published a letter from the brother concerned, Clem Leneghan last month. 

She said she had always felt her brothers could tell her anything, but that the climate of fear meant that her brother was unable to tell her.

There are huge questions now, she said, to be answered about those at a senior level and what they knew and when they discovered it.

Mrs McAleese has also called for Pope Francis to visit Newry, if he attends the Catholic World Meeting of Families, which is taking place in Ireland in August, in the wake of the resignation of local bishop John McAreavey.

The Bishop of Dromore tendered his resignation following protests from victims of Finegan.

The victims criticised Bishop McAreavey for celebrating Finegan's funeral mass in 2002, despite knowing that he had abused children.

They also criticised his decision to concelebrate a public mass with the paedophile priest in 2000, despite Finegan's banishment by the church to a life of private ministry.

The bishop recently apologised to survivors for celebrating Finegan's funeral mass over 15 years ago.

Dr McAreavey's resignation from his diocese, headquartered in Newry, Co Down, came after months of pressure sparked by the church's six-figure settlement with one of 13 complainants who have so far come forward to allege that Finegan sexually abused them in childhood.

Last month, BBC Northern Ireland's Spotlight programme reported that the settlement terms involved the removal of the headstone that once adorned Finegan's grave in Warrenpoint, Co Down.

 If you have been affected by issues in this report, you can contact several services:

Republic of Ireland
Samaritans 24-hour helpline 116 123
ChildLine 24-hour helpline 1800 66 66 66 or text Talk to 50101

Northern Ireland/Britain
24-hour helpline 0808 800 5000, text 88858 or at
Childline 24-hour helpline 0800 1111 or