The priest suspected of the 1972 Claudy bombing met Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness shortly before he died, it was revealed today.
Mr McGuinness confirmed he spoke with Father James Chesney about the priest's support for a united Ireland - but the no-warning car bomb attack which killed nine people was never mentioned.
He said today: "I never knew Father Chesney before Claudy. I never knew Father Chesney for many years after the bombing.
"I was asked, whenever I was told that Father Chesney was dying, I was told he was a republican sympathiser, would I go and see him and meet with him in Co Donegal.
"I did that. There was no mention whatsoever of the Claudy bomb. During the course of that, he just talked about his support for a united Ireland."
Claudy happened six months after Bloody Sunday in Londonderry, 10 miles away, when Mr McGuinness was an IRA leader. He denied the IRA in Derry was involved in the Claudy outrage.
Father Chesney, who was allegedly one of the terrorists who took part, died in 1982.
The priest denied to church colleagues that he was involved.
A report by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson last month claimed that a police investigation into Father Chesney's alleged involvement was stopped after senior police officers conspired with the government and the Catholic Church to protect him.
However Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Catholic Church, insisted the church did not cover up the bomb atrocity by moving the priest out of Northern Ireland. He said the transfer to Donegal did not stop the authorities arresting or questioning him.
Mr McGuinness admitted several years ago that he was in the IRA at the time of Bloody Sunday when soldiers shot and killed 13 men attending a Civil Rights march in the city.
Asked if he had any information about Claudy he replied: "The Derry brigade of the IRA on a number of occasions since the Claudy bomb said they had no hand, act or part in it. I absolutely believe that."
Mr McGuinness denied the priest had said anything to indicate he had been directly involved with the IRA.
"Absolutely not," said Mr McGuinness.
"When the allegations were then levelled against him, I have to say it came as a surprise to me because none of that formed the content of any conversation, albeit a very short conversation that I had with him at a time when he was very ill."Reuse content