GLASGOW (UNITED KINGDOM)
The Herald [Glasgow, Scotland, UK]
January 20, 2023
By Connor Gordon
Father Neil McGarrity, 68, preyed on his victims at two churches in Glasgow as well as his parish home in the city.
McGarrity played “footsie” under the table with one of the girls and was caught in a “prolonged embrace” with another.
The priest of 33 years, from the city’s Maryhill, also touched and rubbed the girls with one victim claiming he hugged her while sat on a couch.
A girl even contacted Childline due to her concerns over his behaviour.
McGarrity was found guilty at Glasgow Sheriff Court of four sexual assaults and one charge of engaging in sexual activity.
The charges span from December 2017 and February 2020 with the girls’ ages ranging between 10 to 16.
The court heard from a girl who said she was repeatedly hugged by McGarrity when she was aged 10 or 11 at a Glasgow East End church.
The witness stated that McGarrity made her feel “uncomfortable”.
She added that he called her his “favourite” and that she wasn’t to “tell anybody”.
The girl stated she did not tell her parents as she kept it “bottled up”.
The victim then recalled being with McGarrity at his parish home in 2020.
She said: “It got too big to handle – we went in the living room and he said to come and sit on a spinning chair.
“He wanted me to put my head on him and he cuddled into me.
“I said I can’t do this and I need the toilet.”
The girl added that she was stroked on the arm and hugged by McGarrity.
A second girl told the court that she had to phone Childline about McGarrity not long after meeting him.
She said: “It was that he was being really close and I was getting someone else’s view if it was normal.
“I never really had that much real concern about it as I really liked him.”
The girl claimed McGarrity put his hand around and rubbed her waist.
The witness added: “It was along with the hand holding and footsie under the table.”
The girl said she was rubbed on the chest and arm by McGarrity while at a Christmas Eve service.
She stated that he kept his hand on her waist and rubbed her lower back like a “massage”.
The girl went on to say McGarrity also touched her on the leg on two occasions while he was driving his car.
A third girl told the court McGarrity played with her hair and touched her face when she was 13 years old.
She said: “He always thought he knew about me and I felt weird.
“When I was at church he used to look at me and I felt uncomfortable.”
The girl added that McGarrity also put his arm around her.
She claimed she told her mum but nobody else as she “did not want to judge someone or be mean”.
The incidents took place at another city church also.
A 25-year-old woman claimed she spotted McGarrity and her younger sister being close with each other at his parish home.
The witness said: “When I re-entered the kitchen area where we were eating, he had his arms round my sister’s waist and she had her arms round his waist.
“It was a prolonged embrace they were in.”
Prosecutor Derek Buchanan asked how her sister reacted.
She replied: “She reacted like a girl in love would react with the man that was touching her.”
McGarrity told the court in his evidence that he was “stunned” to hear of the allegations.
Billy Lavelle, defending, asked if there was any truth to the allegations.
McGarrity said: “There was truth in so far as some of the things I did and didn’t do.”
Mr Lavelle asked: “Was there anything sexual on your part?”
McGarrity replied: “No, not at all.”
But sheriff Vincent Lunny told the court that McGarrity did carry out “touching of a sexual nature”.
The sheriff stated: “I considered each (of the girls) to be credible and reliable – I was impressed by the manner they gave their evidence.
“It was clear that giving evidence was a great difficulty for them.
“This is in large part due to the high regard and affection they held for him personally and as a parish priest.
“Two of the girls were reduced to tears telling the experience they went through.
“This touching wasn’t restricted to an isolated incident but was present over a period of time.
“I was impressed with the care the witnesses gave their evidence and were not exaggerating in any way.
“I’m satisfied that the contact and inappropriate touching was the beginning of getting to something more serious.
“I’m satisfied this was a single course of conduct systematically pursued by you.”
A member of the public was heard to say “thank god” after the sheriff delivered his guilty verdict.
The sentence was deferred pending background reports until March.
McGarrity was put on the sex offenders register and granted bail meantime.
The Archdiocese of Glasgow reported the allegations to the police and further condemned McGarrity’s actions following the verdict.
A spokesperson said: “The fact that a priest has been found guilty of the abuse of those in his care is a source of deep sorrow for the Archdiocese of Glasgow.
“It is our hope that the trial, conviction and sentencing of the individual responsible will afford the victims some comfort.
“We sincerely apologise to the victims of Fr McGarrity and renew apologies previously made for the abuse suffered by anyone in the care of those ministering or working on behalf of the Church.
“The Archdiocese will, in due course, continue its own canonical process, which was put on hold until completion of the criminal case and sentencing.
“The Archdiocese reported the allegations to the police and co-operated fully with the police throughout this investigation, suspending Fr McGarrity from public ministry, a suspension which remains in force.
“The pain and trauma suffered by survivors goes deep. The Archdiocese is committed to doing all it can to support survivors as they seek justice and healing.
“We would encourage anyone who has been affected by this or any similar events to contact us for support.”