Man under ‘spiritual dominance’ when he donated €200,000 to House of Prayer, court told

Son of donor in legal action over sum paid to retreat, which claims money given voluntarily

A stained glass window commissioned for the House of Prayer in Achill Sound. The  retreat, founded by Christina Gallagher, a self-proclaimed Marian visionary, denies the claims. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

A stained glass window commissioned for the House of Prayer in Achill Sound. The retreat, founded by Christina Gallagher, a self-proclaimed Marian visionary, denies the claims. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

A judge has refused to halt an action by a man who alleges his elderly father was subject to a “spiritual injury” over providing a cheque for €200,000 to a Catholic priest acting as an agent for the House of Prayer in Co Mayo.

The House of Prayer, a retreat founded by Christina Gallagher, a self-proclaimed Marian visionary, denies the claims and contends the late James McCormack and his wife Mary voluntarily donated the cheque in 2005.

Patrick McCormack brought High Court proceedings in late 2016 as personal representative of the estate of his late father against Our Lady Queen of Peace, Achill House of Prayer Ltd.

He alleges, as a result of alleged undue influence of a Catholic priest, Fr Gerard McGinnity, whom he alleges was acting as an agent for the House of Prayer, his father in August 2005 provided a cheque for €200,000 made out to contractors responsible for building works at the defendant’s premises.

His father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009 and had suffered from dementia, Patrick McCormack claims. Arising from the circumstances of the provision of the €200,000 cheque, he alleges his father was caused to suffer a spiritual injury.

Ms Justice Mary Faherty delivered her reserved judgment refusing a preliminary application by the defendant to halt the case.

The judge stressed she was not, in this application, involved in deciding disputed issues of fact but, from the evidence and circumstances, was not satisfied at this juncture it was inequitable to allow the case proceed.

While taking cognisance of the number of years that had elapsed, she was not satisfied, at this juncture, to decide the delay was unreasonable when it was alleged the late James McCormack was under some form of spiritual dominance even up to the date of his death, she said. That issue must be decided at trial.

She was also not satisfied from the evidence the defendant was prejudiced by the delay for reasons including the unavailability of the late James McCormack to testify.

In all the circumstances, she was refusing to halt the case, she said, and adjourned it to next month to allow the sides consider her judgment.

In its defence, the House of Prayer pleads the €200,000 cheque was handed over voluntarily after Patrick McCormack’s parents contacted a representative of it in August 2005 to say they wished to make a donation to contribute to building works being carried out at the defendant’s premises by Dunwall Construction. It claims the couple, for convenience and at the request of the defendant, made the cheque out to Dunwall Construction.

In opposing the attempt to halt the case, Patrick McCormack claimed in an affidavit the €200,000 was paid at Fr McGinnity’s request. The “real truth of the lies and deceit” surrounding the House of Prayer, established in 1993 at Achill Island, only came to light “considerably after 2009”, he alleged.

The people involved in the House of Prayer were “arguably involved in a cult” and there were issues whether Fr McGinnity and his father came under the influence of a cult, he said.

He maintained the defendant knew, or must have known, people would make claims to be reimbursed as a result of the “adverse publicity” that “engulfed” the House of Prayer and its “disreputable efforts” to gather in monies on the “pretext” it was for a good charitable purpose.

The Revenue removed the House of Prayer’s charitable status in 2006, he said.