Cork priest sentenced over sex offences

Tue, Jul 3, 2012, 01:00

A PRIEST who attempted to rape a young girl and sexually assaulted her brother in west Cork more than 30 years ago has been given an eight-year sentence.

John Calnan (73), of The Presbytery, Paul Street, Cork, pleaded guilty to the attempted rape of the girl between January 1st, 1980, and April 30th, 1980, in west Cork.

The girl he assaulted was seven at the time.

Calnan also admitted three counts of sexually assaulting the girl between October 25th, 1976 and October 24th, 1979.

He further admitted one count of sexual assault of the girl’s brother between August 10th, 1975 and October 9th, 1979. The victim was aged between nine and 12 at the time.

The female victim told her mother, who in turn went to a member of the clergy about it. Shortly afterwards, Calnan was moved to another parish.

Prosecuting counsel, Alice Fawsitt SC, told Mr Justice Paul Carney the accused “admitted to paedophile tendencies” towards the girl and that there was “a grooming process”.

The matter was first reported to gardaí in west Cork in May 2010.

Mr Justice Carney imposed concurrent sentences totalling eight years and suspended the final three years, taking into account mitigating factors such as Calnan’s guilty plea, his lack of convictions and the state of his health.

He also ordered 18 months’ post-release supervision and that Calnan stay away from his victims in perpetuity.

The Central Criminal Court heard the girl’s parents were heavily involved in the church at the time. The girl would run errands, including delivering envelopes to the priest’s house. She and her siblings also used to play in the priest’s yard.

Det Garda Maurice Shanley told the court the accused would visit the girl’s family home and “would regularly have one of the kids on his knee”.

He said that initially the priest would touch the girl intimately outside her underwear and it progressed to him asking her to take down her underwear and he would expose himself.

He said on one occasion the girl was instructed to take off her clothes and that Calnan attempted to have sex with her.

“He stated he groomed her. He brought her to his house,” Det Garda Shanley said.

The court heard the girl’s brother also made an allegation against Calnan. Det Garda Shanley said Calnan started by tickling the boy and then put his hand down his trousers.

“He started laughing and giggling. It lasted about 10 seconds. He stopped and he left,” said the garda.

In her victim impact statement to the court, the female victim said the abuse took place in a “locked room”.

“My mother complained to another priest, but nothing was done. A grown man tried to enter a small seven-year-old girl. The man who abused me told me to keep it a secret and my mother also told me not to tell anyone,” she said.

“I am angry with the man who abused me, angry with my parents for letting it happen and angry with the church for not preventing it,” she said.

She added that her confidence and self-worth had been damaged as a result of the abuse.

“I felt guilty, as if I had done something wrong. I am still afraid of him; the fear of him and the place,” she added.

She said she found it difficult to make friendships in school and in later life, and had become alienated from her family.

“The abuse has caused a split in the family,” she said.

“I used to hate being a girl. I used to cut my hair short,” she told the court.

The girl’s brother did not wish to submit a victim impact statement, the court was told.

Defence counsel Anthony Sammon SC told the court his client underwent intensive treatment in 1992-1993.

He said the issue had been dealt with by moving the priest on to another parish, and gardaí were not contacted until the victim came forward two years ago.

Det Garda Shanley said: “There was no reason on his file as to why he was moved but it appears he was moved because of this.”

Mr Sammon said his client has had significant health problems. He read out a letter from his client, which was addressed to both victims.

In the letter, he apologised for the hurt he had caused: “Both of you were young, innocent and trusting. I abused that trust.

“The guilt is all mine. I take full responsibility.”