Fury At Suspended Sentence For Child-Molesting Priest

By Colm Heatley
The Irish Examiner
August 2, 2006

Sex abuse victims' campaign groups have reacted furiously to a suspended sentence given to a priest who admitted sexually abusing four young boys in the 1970s and 1980s.

Fr Ronald Bennett, 71, admitted abusing the four boys during his time as a spiritual director of Gormanston College.

Last week Fr Bennett was given a five year suspended sentence at Dublin Criminal Court.

Bennett, who still lives with a religious order in Ireland, pleaded guilty to six sample charges of indecent assault on dates from 1974 to 1981.

Judge Desmond Hogan imposed the suspended sentence as well as a 1,000 Euro fine on Bennett.

He was ordered to adhere to guidelines laid down by the Grenada Institute, which assesses sex offenders.

The court heard that the four boys were routinely called to Bennett's office over the school tannoy system.

Once there he would abuse them before sending them back to class.

Sex abuse campaigners said the sentence was 'ridiculous' and sent out a dangerous message to both abusers and victims.

"What is this going to say to a young girl or boy who has been abused, that if you do pluck up the courage to bring your abuser to court he will walk free with a slap on the wrist," said Helen McGurk of victim's group, Justice for Children.

"The fact that these incidents occurred 20 or more years ago is neither here nor there, the important thing is that this priest has caused huge suffering to four young people.

"It is also worth remembering that had it not been for the courage of these victims the crime of Fr Bennett would never have come to light".

The investigation was launched in 1999 after one of Bennett's teenage victims complained to Gardai that he had been abused while he was a pupil of Gormanstown College in the 1970s.

Further investigations uncovered a further three victims who told how Bennett would give them sweets and ask them inappropriate questions before abusing them.

However Niall Muldoon, senior clinical analyst at the Granada Institute, said Bennett had been assessed and was among the lowest risk of abusers who would reoffend again.

He said Bennett had underwent considerable therapy and that during his time as spiritual director of the school, which involved giving sex education lessons, Bennett was unable to come to terms with his own sexuality or appropriate boundaries.

When Bennett was arrested in 1999 he accepted the 'substance' of the allegations, but couldn't recall all the details.

"I presume I did all these things with him (his victim)," Bennett told police.

Bennett also organised boys football team and the altar boys when he worked at Gormanstown College.



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