Court sentences priest to 2 1/2 years for sex abuse

 

A CATHOLIC priest was jailed for 2 1/2 years for sex abuse yesterday at Belfast Crown Court. Judge John Martin described Father Joseph Michael Steele's sentence as substantial".

Earlier Judge Martin told the 56 year old priest his that "systematic" 14 years of abusing youngsters deserved "a substantial custodial sentence to reflect public abhorrence at your activities and to deter others from starting on a similar course of action".

Steele, he said, had betrayed the trust of his victims, many of whom still bore the scars of their abuse.

He had given himself up to gardai after he was traced to the Missionary College at Kimmage Manor in Dublin.

Originally from the New Lodge area of north Belfast, Steele pleaded guilty to 25 sex charges involving the indecent assault of three boys and seven girls from September 1969 to December 1983.

Immediately after the sentence was announced his superior, Father Martin Keane, Provincial of the Holy Ghost Congregation, issued a statement offering his "deep sorrow and the sorrow of the Holy Ghost Congregation for the hurt which has been caused to the victims and their families.

"It will be of some relief to them that the criminal prosecution is now at an end. I hope that the conviction will be a step towards healing their pain and anguish"

The court heard that the curate used his position as a priest and interest in photography and gymnastics to get close to the children after winning the confidence of their parents.

His first victim was an eight year old altar boy at St Teresa's Church on the Glen Road in west Belfast, but he soon turned his attentions to girls from the nearby Cross and Passion School where he ran a photography club.

As chaplain at the girls' school, he would kiss and fondle the teenagers and for three years he also abused a 13 year old while coaching her in gymnastics.

He persisted in this kind of behaviour when moved to St Colmcille's at Ballyhackamore in east Belfast, where for eight years from December 1975 he abused two sisters and their brother in their own home.

Steele would make excuses to get the children alone and even abused the girls in their own room as he sat between them in bed.

Steele was moved again, this time to Newtownards, where in 1991 the girls and their brother, now adults, confronted him before his parish priest. The parish priest reported the matter to his bishop, who ordered Steele back to Dublin.

But the scandal remained hidden for another four years until November last year when their sister discovered him working as a curate in a Catholic church in Rotherham in England.

She alerted social services, and Steele was sent back to his order's headquarters at the Missionary College, Kimmage Manor in Dublin, where police finally traced him.