northern ireland (Photo: Nationalist youths set a car alight in Belfast on July 13, 2010/Cathal McNaughton)

The British government and the Roman Catholic Church colluded to protect a priest suspected of involvement in a 1972 bombing in Northern Ireland that killed 9 people, an official report said on Tuesday.

The Police Ombudsman’s report revealed that an Irish cardinal was involved in transferring Father James Chesney out of British-ruled Northern Ireland, highlighting again the role of the Church hierarchy in protecting priests against allegations of criminal activity.

The inquiry showed that Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw had a private “tete-a-tete” with Cardinal William Conway, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in 1972 in which they discussed the possibility of moving Chesney out of Northern Ireland.

“In the absence of explanation the actions of the senior RUC (police) officers, in seeking and accepting the government’s assistance in dealing with the problem of Father Chesney’s alleged wrongdoing, was by definition a collusive act,” the police ombudsman Al Hutchinson said in a statement. “The decision failed those who were murdered, injured and bereaved in the bombing.”

No one was ever charged or convicted for the triple car bomb attack on the village of Claudy, but the republican guerrilla group the IRA was assumed to be responsible. Those killed included a nine-year-old-girl and two teenage boys.  Chesney always denied any involvement, although a sniffer dog found traces of explosive in his car when he was stopped at a checkpoint in September 1972.