The Catholic Church today insisted it did not cover-up the Claudy bomb atrocity by moving a suspected terrorist priest out of Northern Ireland.
Cardinal Sean Brady said the transfer of Fr James Chesney to Donegal did not stop authorities arresting or questioning him over the IRA's July 1972 triple car bomb outrage.
In a statement issued along with Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty, the senior clerics said they accept the Ombudsman's findings and conclusions.
The churchmen said it was shocking that a priest should be suspected of involvement in the village attack which killed nine people, including a young girl, and injured 30.
"This case should have been properly investigated and resolved during Father Chesney's lifetime," the Catholic leaders said.
"If there was sufficient evidence to link him to criminal activity, he should have been arrested and questioned at the earliest opportunity, like anyone else.
"We agree with the Police Ombudsman that the fact this did not happen failed those who were murdered, injured and bereaved in the bombings."
The clerics said all known Catholic Church material was handed over to investigators from the Ombudsman's office.
They said church figures challenged Fr Chesney at the time about his alleged activities, which he denied.
And they repeated the Ombudsman's findings that there was no evidence of criminal intent on the part of any Church official over the transfer of the priest to the Republic.
Cardinal Brady and Bishop Hegarty said the Church reported back to then secretary of state William Whitelaw the outcome of the questioning of Fr Chesney.
The churchmen added: "We can never lose sight of the terrible human cost of this atrocity.
"Nine people died, including children. Many were injured. Many more were rendered homeless or had businesses destroyed or damaged. The entire community of a small rural town was traumatised by a horrific attack on innocent people."
They urged anyone with information on the bombing to come forward.
"Fr Chesney is dead and, as a suspect in the Claudy bombing, he is beyond the justice of earthly courts," they said.
"Clearly a number of people were involved in the planning and carrying out of this terrible atrocity, some of whom may still be alive. Those bereaved and injured deserve to know the truth."Reuse content