Amnesty International has supported a call by the solicitor for a number of victims of a paedophile priest in Northern Ireland for a public inquiry into the Catholic Church's response to child abuse allegations there.

Claire McKeegan's call follows the resignation of Bishop John McAreavey over mounting controversy about his con-celebration of mass with the late Malachy Finegan, despite a ban on him ministering in public.

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, comes 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 which once adorned Finegan's grave in Warrenpoint, Co Down.

The programme claimed it was carried away under cover of darkness just before Christmas.

Between 1967 and 1987, Finegan worked as spiritual director, then teacher and was eventually appointed President of St Colman's College in Newry, whose board the local bishop chairs.

This was the scene of many of Finegan's crimes against pupils, one of which was first notified to the then Father John McAreavey in 1994.

But Finegan also abused in his then parochial house in the rural Co Down parish of Clonduff in Hilltown, where one of his victims was Sean Faloon.

He was first abused by Finegan when he was a ten-year-old altar boy.

Four days after Mr Faloon's interview with the BBC Spotlight, Bishop McAreavey, now over 18 years a bishop, explained to the Irish Catholic newspaper why he had failed to go public with the mounting evidence against Finegan.

He said: "…while there were some victims who said, 'put this out into the public forum', others were terrified...

"It would have suited me many times to have put this into the public domain, to have this off my conscience, if you like."

His Irish Catholic interviewer concluded that Dr McAreavey had five "missed opportunities" to make [the Finegan story] public ... between September 1999 and last December.

But Spotlight also reported the Bishop's decision not to put Fr Finegan off the altar at Hilltown in 2000 when the priest emerged from Church-imposed banishment to concelebrate an anniversary mass with the bishop.

And there was Dr McAreavey's decision to celebrate Finegan's funeral Mass in 2002, which he now admits was wrong.

Yesterday evening he resigned, issuing a two-line statement through his solicitor:

"Following media reports which have disturbed and upset many people in the Diocese and further afield, I have decided to resign with immediate effect.

I shall make further comment in due course."

Interviewed by BBC Northern Ireland's Newline programme, Mr Faloon said: "As soon as I heard the news [of the bishop's resignation], I could feel a lot of weight leaving my shoulders, my legs went light and then filled with energy, I was really, really relieved."

He said Dr McAreavey had done the right thing.

Now solicitor Claire McKeegan of KRW Law, who represents some of Finegan's victims, says they are demanding a prompt public inquiry into clerical abuse in Northern Ireland.

She told the Belfast Telegraph that victims and survivors deserve to speak about the horrific abuse that took place and to be heard in a public forum tasked with sufficient powers to get to the truth.

"This case has brought to the surface yet another paedophile priest who was never investigated or exposed by the Church or the police," she added.

Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan said the scale of the revelations meant a full inquiry was necessary.

The organisation's Northern Ireland programme director said the Finegan’s abuse scandal was horrifying but was not an isolated case.

He pointed to cases of cover-ups under the watches of the retired Catholic Primate, Cardinal Seán Brady, the retired Bishop Séamus Hegarty of Derry and subsequently Raphoe and the late Bishop Edward Daly of Derry.