By Allison Bray
February 13, 2002
A pervert priest who repeatedly molested young girls in a church confession box was yesterday jailed for a year.
Father James Prunty, 77, originally from Cloone, Co Leitrim, fondled the girls - aged between six and 15 - under their clothes as they confessed their sins.
He also molested them in other parts of the church and in their own homes while he was acting as the local curate.
Prunty pleaded guilty at Tullamore Circuit Court to 13 sample charges of indecent assault on three young girls in the Midlands.
To protect the identity of the victims, the parish and town where the assaults took place cannot be revealed.
The priest currently lives in Edgewoodstown, Co Longford, with his 102-year-old mother.
He was originally charged with 76 counts of indecent assault against seven young female victims in 1999 but the prosecution dropped the other charges.
Now middle-aged women, the victims came forward with their complaints in the mid-1990s. The assaults occurred between 1956 and 1959 when the priest was in his early 30s.
One victim who was only 10 years old at the time of the assault told the court how the assaults left her terrified.
She told Judge Anthony Kennedy: "It ruined my life then and will continue to do so."
She said the assaults began when she went to the children's confession and Prunty removed the grille in the box, leaned over and fondled her private parts.
She added that the experience left her terrified of confession.
The assaults continued in other parts of the church and at her own home when he sat her on his knee and molest her.
Judge Kennedy refused a request by Prunty's solicitor, Patrick Gageby, for leniency due to the priest's age and the passage of time since the assaults.
He said the fact that the priest molested the children in the sanctity of the church, especially in the confession box, was inexcusable.
Judge Kennedy also noted that Prunty repeated the assaults on the girls many times.
He said: "He had deluded their parents. During the 1950s clerical power was very strong and the priest was God in the eyes of these children. It would have been impossible for them to talk about the abuse let alone complain about it."
After the hearing Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Dr Colm O'Reilly, issued a statement praising the courage of those who came forward. He expressed his "heartfelt sorrow" at the suffering experienced by the victims."