Jailed priest was in regular contact with abuse swim coaches
By Jason O'Brien
March 10, 2007
A PRIEST jailed this week for sexually abusing pupils was heavily involved in underage swimming, and regularly dealt with both Derry O'Rourke and George Gibney.
Fr Ronald Bennett (72), a former spiritual director at Gormanstown College, was handed a two-and-a-half-year sentence on Monday for sexually abusing four pupils 30 years ago.
The Irish Independent has learned that Bennett was a high-ranking official in the Irish Schools Swimming Association for a period in the 1970s, and was in regular contact with O'Rourke and Gibney.
However, those who were abused do not believe that the three sexual predators were operating as part of a paedophile ring.
O'Rourke, the former national and Olympic swimming coach, was released from prison last week after serving nine years of a 12-year sentence for a string of sexual abuses on girls as young as 10. Gibney, his predecessor as national coach, fled the country before he could be tried for sexual abuse of children.
"Fr Bennett was based in Gormanstown College - a lot of training camps happened down there from the early 60s right the way through the 70s," former international competitor Chalkie White said yesterday.
"O'Rourke and Gibney would have taken kids down there for weekends and for week-long training sessions at Easter and in the summer. There was abuse at Gormanstown during these sessions, I know that personally."
The Court of Criminal Appeal ruled this week that a Circuit Court judge had erred in suspending an entire five-year prison term handed down to Fr Bennett last year. It was directed that he serve two and a half years after pleading guilty to six sample charges of assault against four pupils from 1974-81.
Mr White said he was aware of rumours surrounding Bennett's behaviour at the time of the training camps, and believes that O'Rourke and Gibney benefited because all three were paedophiles.
"Because all three were doing the same, nobody was willing to jump and say, 'hey, do you know what he is doing?' because he was doing it himself. So within the climate it was easy for it to go on," Mr White said.
"I think the word 'ring' might be too strict. I believe that they can operate within the same circles without necessary having much contact with each other.
"But because they are operating they understand who's available maybe. There wouldn't have been any people [abused] by all three, but what they were constantly doing was picking up on the technique, because there is a technique to it."
Gary O'Toole, the former international swimmer who campaigned to bring the two coaches to justice, also believes that O'Rourke and Gibney did not work together in cahoots as part of a sexual ring.
Bart Nolan, a campaigner for justice for the families of those affected, said that Fr Bennett was particularly close to Gibney.
"He was a mate of both O'Rourke and Gibney, he was 'Mr Schools Swimming' at that time," Mr Nolan said yesterday.
"When Gibney came in at first he was involved with the schools swimming, that's how he first started out. Bennett would have travelled with Gibney."