The ombudsman report said there was “no evidence of criminal intent on the part of any Government Minister or official or on the part of any official of the Catholic Church.” It also acknowledged that key individuals in the case are deceased, and cannot explain or defend their decisions or actions.
The role of the Catholic Church in this matter is a key area of debate.
“The failure to question him [Chesney] or pursue a criminal conviction rests squarely with law enforcement,” Kelly commented. “No evidence has been provided that the Church engaged in any kind of cover-up. The rumor that Fr. Chesney was involved was known to the civil authorities. We can only speculate why they did not act to arrest him and let the criminal process take its course.”
At the same time, Kelly voiced sympathy for the victims’ families.
“Sadly, the passage of time and the deaths of many of those who could have helped enquiries makes that now seem impossible. It is a situation unfortunately faced my [sic] many.”
Solicitor Kevin Winters, who is representing the families involved, told the Irish state broadcaster RTE News that the families will never have total closure. However, he added, “they felt empowered” because their initiating legal action helped them “access key information.”
Their lawyers said the families wanted “to place on record their anger and disgust at the attitude of the Church to date within the legal proceedings,” the Irish Times reports. “The families would like to finally say that they were deeply disappointed in the lack of a proper investigation into the murder of their loved ones by the Police.”
The attorneys said that police and the Northern Ireland Office showed a “mature attitude” in mediation that helped the families in “understanding some serious failings by the state.”
Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry told CNA that the case is under legal consideration and “it would be inappropriate to comment.”
When the ombudsman report was released in 2010, Catholic leaders issued two separate statements.
A joint statement from then-Archbishop of Armagh Cardinal Sean Brady and then-Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty called the bombing “an appalling crime” and noted “the terrible human cost of this atrocity.” They accepted the report’s conclusions and said the priest should have been arrested and questioned if there was sufficient evidence. They said that all known Catholic Church material was made available to investigators.
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Another 2010 statement, from the widely respected Bishop emeritus Edward Daly of Derry, was more skeptical. In an opinion article in the Irish News, Daly said he was not at all convinced of Chesney’s involvement, though the priest was an outspoken republican sympathizer. Daly’s predecessor and superior never informed him they believed the priest was a murderer, and Daly himself had the priest observed.
Further, he said, the quality of intelligence produced by the Royal Ulster Constabulary at the time was notoriously poor, and led to the internment of many who were falsely accused of IRA activities.
Bishop McKeown, who has headed the Derry diocese since 2014, told CNA the 2010 statements are “still valid commentary.”
Daly’s 2010 commentary said the Claudy bombing was “one of Northern Ireland’s most despicable acts of terror.” He prayed for the truth to come out for the families, the community, and Chesney’s relatives.
“I hope the Claudy families launch a campaign that achieves justice and truth,” he said.
At the same time, Daly said that the media reports on the ombudsman’s findings were “very disquieting.” News media should have questioned “key aspects” of its claims that Chesney was a senior IRA figure linked to the bombings.