A former Catholic priest has received an 18-month suspended sentence for a what a judge said was “a significant and grievous breach of trust” for sexually assaulting a seven-year-old boy.
Daniel Curran (64), of Bryansford Avenue, Newcastle, Co Down, was at Downpatrick Crown Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to one count of gross indecency towards a boy and also admitted a single charge of indecent assault on him.
The offences took place between August 1990 and August 1993 at a cottage owned by his family in Co Down when the victim was between seven and 10.
Passing sentence on Monday, Judge Piers Grant told Curran he had pleaded guilty to “serious offences” by “deliberately targeting groups of individuals” to ply them with alcohol so he could abuse them in the family cottage.
Prosecution QC David McDowell told Curran came to the Belfast primary school the boy was at and asked him if he wanted to serve as an altar boy at St Paul’s Church on the Falls Road.
The boy then started to go on trips with a number of older boys. They had barbecues and also went to Castlewellan. He said he was “flattered by the invitation” to go on these trips.
Mr McDowell said Curran took the boys to the cottage in Tyrella, a seaside village a few miles outside Downpatrick.
“The victim describes the house [as having] one massive bedroom and all the boys slept together in the bed with Fr Curran.
“On this occasion there were three older boys with him and Fr Curran provided the older boys with cider and they in turn gave it to the complainant. Fr Curran was drinking the cider with them.
“He later woke to find that Fr Curran had moved in the bed and Fr Curran was lying behind in a spoons position.”
The victim, now 31, told police that Curran then indecently assaulted him and forced him to sexually touch the priest.
“The complainant said he made an excuse that he needed the toilet, to which Fr Curran replied: ‘You have been a good boy.’
“He then went outside . . . to go to the toilet in the rain. He described being cold, wet and crying but had nowhere else to go.
“He got back into bed but there was no further touching. Fr Curran drove them back home the next day.”
The offences came to light in March 2014 when the victim told his wife about it.
“He . . . felt that the time was right. It is apparent the victim is a very private person and didn’t want to take part in a victim-impact report for these proceedings.”
Mr McDowell told the court Curran had “breached the great trust in which his parents had placed in him by allowing their son to go with Fr Curran”.
The judge was told that Curran was interviewed in August 2014 about the incident.
“He told police that he didn’t think that there had been one as young as that in the house,” he said.
Noel Dillon, defending, said Curran was remorseful even though he has no recollection of the incident. "He is not saying that he had committed these offences or saying that he had not committed these offences. It is simply that he cannot remember because at that time he was an alcoholic and alcohol was a large factor in what happened.
“He can only imagine the awful damage he has done to this boy and offers his apology.”
Judge Grant said it was fifth time Curran had been convicted and sentenced for his “serious and significant offending” towards children who had been placed in his care as a priest by parents.
The judge praised the courage of the complainant in coming forward to the police after “attempting to put this behind him”.
He said: “One can only hope that, having come forward after all these years, this will have a cathartic effect to help him to get over and deal with what occurred and what should not have happened to him.”
Although Curran was assessed as posing a “low risk of reoffending”, Judge Grant said the aggravating factors were that there was “very high culpability” on Curran’s part because of the “significant and grievous breach of trust on behalf of this defendant” and the harm caused was “considerable”.
The judge said mitigating factors in favour of Curran was his guilty plea, that there had been no reoffending since 1995, he had sought therapeutic treatment for his alcohol problems, he had not taken alcohol since his offences came to light and had complied with supervision orders which had “kept him under proper control”.
Stating that Curran had received prison sentences totalling 13 years and eight months for previous sexual assaults on children, Judge Grant said: “I take the view that the appropriate sentence for each of these offences is 18 months in custody but, given the totality principle, I will suspended those sentences for three years.”
No further orders were made against Curran as he is the subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) and is on the sex offenders’ register for life.