Catholic Church apology after priest is sentenced for abuse of two children

Belfast Telegraph [Belfast, Northern Ireland]

October 25, 2021

By Allison Morris

The Catholic Church has issued an apology after a retired priest was sentenced after being found guilty of abusing two children following a ‘trial of facts’.

Fr John J Murray had been due to stand trial for the abuse of two children, but was deemed medically unfit to take part in the proceedings due to dementia.

On Friday a court ordered further supervision arrangements.

The 80-year-old veteran priest had served as curate in St Matthew’s Parish in the Short Strand area of Belfast, where one of his victims had lived with her family.

The offences were said to have taken place between December 31 1976 and January 1 1983 in the parochial house of St Matthew’s.

Murray had gone to live in the Canary Islands but returned to Belfast in 2019 after the PSNI threatened to introduce extradition proceedings against him.

A few days later a carer guided him into Belfast Magistrates Court in a wheelchair for his first appearance.

However, a previous court in Belfast ruled that as Murray suffered from Alzheimer’s, he was incapable of mounting a reasonable defence.

Instead of a full criminal hearing, a ‘trial of facts’ took place at Dungannon Crown Court, in front of a jury.

It took under an hour for the jury to reach a unanimous verdict earlier this month with sentencing taking place on Friday.

Murray was found guilty of two separate counts of indecent assault on two female children.

Both victims were around ten years of age at the time of the offences.

One victim had told police Fr Murray used to call into her class at primary school to ask if she could be excused from lessons as he needed assistance with church-related matters, before abusing her.

She has welcomed the verdict.

Bishop of Down and Connor Fr Noel Treanor issued an apology on behalf of the diocese following Friday’s conclusion of the case.

Fr Murray is also expected to be laicized – lose his clerical status – following the conclusion of the criminal process.

The paedophile priest escaped prison but the Crown Court issued further reviewed supervision arrangements regarding Fr Murray, despite him being deemed unfit to stand criminal trial.

Bishop Treanor said: “On behalf of the Diocese of Down and Connor, I sincerely regret and wholeheartedly apologise for all the pain and distress caused to his victims and their families.

“These criminal actions were a complete betrayal of trust and the abuse he perpetrated upon others are counter to the Christian values of the Gospel.

“These criminal actions leave a lasting and painful legacy of suffering upon those he abused and across the wider community.

“I pray that the judgment reached by the Crown Court will assist in bringing some healing to those who have been affected by these crimes and I reiterate the Diocese’s unequivocal commitment to the safeguarding of children, young people and adults at risk.

“Following the completion of the Crown Court trial, the normal review under the Church’s Safeguarding policy and procedures and its own internal process, which had been suspended for the course of the statutory investigation and civil proceedings will now resume.

“The Diocese continues to encourage anyone who has a concern of a safeguarding nature to contact the PSNI, Social Services, or the Diocesan Designated Safeguarding Officer (Telephone 07534 992124).”