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Franciscan abuser priest Fr Ronald Bennett dies aged 88

Bennett convicted of abusing boys at Gormanston College in Co Meath from 1973 to 1981

A Franciscan priest convicted of abusing boys at Gormanston College in Co Meath from 1973 to 1981 has died. Fr Ronald Bennett (88) was a former spiritual director, sports master and bursar at the college.

A member of the college’s teaching staff from 1963, Bennett in June 2006 pleaded guilty to six sample charges of indecent assault on boys at the school between 1974 and 1981. He was given a five-year suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

The hearing was told that management at Gormanston College was aware of abuse perpetrated by Bennett but did not remove him from his post. Complaints were made against the priest in 1973 to a member of management by the parents of one of the boys abused. They were given assurances that the priest would no longer be allowed to be alone with boys, but he continued abusing until 1981.

Fr Caoimhín Ó Laoide, then the Franciscan provincial, told the court that, at the time, the feeling was that there could be an internal solution to the problem. In retrospect, he said, the view was “misguided”.


He acknowledged that if assurances given to parents in 1973 had been adhered to, many other boys would not have suffered and said there were now robust procedures in place.

Judge Desmond Hogan praised the Franciscans for its more recent handling of Bennett at that stage, saying the congregation had behaved “most responsibly in the circumstances”. He said the abuser was “practically under open house arrest as it is and I do not wish to interfere with that”.

One in Four, the support group for people who have experienced sexual abuse, said it was disappointed and concerned by the sentence, particularly by the reasons for its mitigation.

The sentence was overturned in March 2007 by the Court of Criminal Appeal, which ruled that Bennett should serve 2½ years of his sentence in prison with a further 2½ years suspended. It ruled that far too much weight was given to mitigating factors relating to Bennett personally and the time in prison would better reflect the serious breach of trust that had taken place and the serious consequences of his actions.

In February 2010, Bennett pleaded guilty at Trim Circuit Court to two counts of sexual assault on another schoolboy on dates unknown in 1973 and 1974.

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Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times