A court has heard how a priest accused of indecently assaulting two schoolgirls was witnessed by the victims concelebrating a funeral mass despite an internal church investigation finding the allegations to be “credible”.
The priest, who cannot be named, appeared at a sitting of Longford Circuit Criminal Court last week, where details of the offences against both girls were outlined.
Both victims, who are sisters, were assaulted in the bedrooms of their midlands based home between June 1981 and December 1982.
The 70-year-old accused, who is still a priest despite not being in active ministry, pleaded guilty earlier this year to four counts of indecent assault on the girls who were aged 17 and 12 at the time.
The 17-year-old victim told of how the offending began soon after her brother died in a car accident.
Her father, she said, became “drinking friends” with the accused soon after with the pair routinely returning to the family home at times “inebriated”.
Prosecuting Counsel, Shane Geraghty told Judge Keenan Johnson of how the victim could recall the priest saying: “I am going up to say good night” moments before the abuse took place.
Mr Geraghty said the victim attempted to wrap herself up in a blanket as the priest entered her bedroom, telling him: “Please Fr, don’t”.
He said during the course of the abuse, the priest told her of wanting to “marry her”, describing as “vulgar” the smell of alcohol which emanated from his breath.
The offending, she added, came to a halt when she opted to leave home and pursue her studies in nursing.
Mr Geraghty said the scale of the abuse had left her with very low self esteem and self loathing.
There was resentment too, Mr Geraghty added at both her parents, for not protecting her and allowing the priest into the family home.
The court also heard a statement which was given by her younger sister.
“I still remember the smell of drink off him and ramming his tongue down my throat,” she said.
Like her elder sibling, the abuse had a far-reaching effect on her, Mr Geraghty said, manifested in outbursts of anger and violation.
The fallout from the abuse both sisters endured simmered to the surface in 1987 when the older of the two became aware the priest had preyed on her younger sibling.
The court heard how contact was made with the church in December 2005 and despite a senior member of the clergy being away on holidays, there was “engagement with the parish” and an internal investigation carried out.
That found, Mr Geraghty revealed “something had happened” with the accused sending a letter to the diocese’s hierarchy in May 2006 insisting he had “no recall of any of the allegations” made against him.
In a victim impact statement, the younger of the two victims hit out at the “contempt” which the Church had shown her in its handling of the allegations and of not being made aware of its own inquiry's findings.
“It seems they are more interested in their ministry than the welfare of their children,” she said, before taking aim at her aggressor.
“His late, but guilty pleas fall short of contrition for me, the woman he violated as a child.”
The court was told the accused priest was arrested in August 2019 but failed to answer several questions put to him by detectives, preferring instead to answer with the response: “No comment”.
When further pressed about the alleged offending, the priest appeared to deny any wrongdoing, saying: “I never forced myself on anyone, it’s not in my nature.”
In taking to the stand, the priest told defending barrister, Des Dockery SC he fully accepted his involvement in the crimes against both girls.
He also accepted it was “inappropriate” to have been seen concelebrating a funeral mass years later, adding he had been “allowed” back in a reduced ministerial capacity “for a year”.
He said his recollection of the allegations had been clouded by a chronic addiction to alcohol, a predilection he had since managed to steer clear from since May 1982.
“I was going around with the backside out of my trousers thinking people wouldn’t see,” he said.
“There were nights I would see gorillas in the room and rats running up the bed. That’s how bad I was.”
The priest also took time to read a letter of apology he wrote to both of his victims, outlining the “pain and suffering I caused you both by my actions of sexually assaulting you in your own home when you were young girls.”
He added: “I fully acknowledge and take responsibility for what I have done to you. In expressing my sorrow, I sincerely hope it will go some way towards your healing for the pain I caused you.”
Judge Johnson was told the priest, no longer in active ministry, was still a member of the clergy and had completed a degree in addiction studies, written a novel while also attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings two to three times a week.
Mr Dockery said there was no denying the “deeply offensive” emotions which had clearly been felt by both victims in witnessing the priest concelebrating at a funeral mass in the locality in the wake of the allegations which had been investigated internally by the church.
Judge Johnson described the incidents at “serious, nasty and disgusting offending” which had a “hugely negative” impact on both victims.
Given the sensitivities surrounding the case, he said greater time was needed to issue a final judgement and adjourned sentencing to a sitting of Longford Circuit Criminal Court on October 21 at 2pm.
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