Abuse priest sentenced to eight years

July 2, 2012

A former priest who attempted to rape a young girl and sexually assaulted her brother in west Cork more than 30 years ago has been given an eight-year sentence.

John Calnan (aged 73), of The Presbytery, 35 Paul Street, Cork, pleaded guilty to the attempted rape of the girl between January 1, 1980 and April 30, 1980 in west Cork. She was aged seven at the time.

Calnan also admitted three counts of sexually assaulting the girl between October 25, 1976 and October 24, 1979.

He further admitted one count of sexual assault on the girl's brother between August 10, 1975 and October 9, 1979. The victim was aged between nine and 12 at the time.

The female victim told her mother, who, in turn, went to a member of the clergy about it. Shortly after Calnan was moved to another parish.

Prosecuting counsel, Alice Fawsitt SC, told Mr Justice Paul Carney that the accused “admitted to paedophile tendencies” towards the girl and that there was “a grooming process”.

The incident was first reported to gardaí in west Cork in May 2010.

Mr Justice Carney imposed concurrent sentences totaling eight years and suspended the final three years taking into account the mitigating factors such as his guilty plea, lack of convictions and the state of his health.

He also ordered 18 months' post release supervision and that Calnan stay away from his victims in perpetuity.

The Central Criminal Court heard that the girl's parents were heavily involved in the church at the time and she would run errands including delivering envelopes to the priest's house. She and her siblings also used to play in the priest's yard.

Detective Garda Maurice Shanley told the court that the accused would visit the girl's family home and “would regularly have one of the kids on his knee”.

He said that initially the priest would touch the girl outside her underwear and it progressed to him asking her to take down her underwear and he would expose himself to her.

He said that on one occasion, the girl was instructed to take her clothes off and Calnan attempted to have sex with her.

“He stated he groomed her. He brought her to his house,” said Det Gda Shanley.

The court heard that the girl's brother also made an allegation against Calnan. Det Gda Shanley said that Calnan started to tickle the boy and then put his hand down his trousers.

“He started laughing and giggling. It lasted about 10 seconds. He stopped and he (the boy) left,” said the garda.

In her victim impact statement to the court, the female victim said that the abuse took place in a “locked room”.

“My mother complained to another priest but nothing was done. A grown man tried to enter a small seven-year-old girl. The man who abused me told me to keep it a secret and my mother also told me not to tell anyone,” she said.

“I am angry with the man who abused me, angry with my parents for letting it happen and angry with the Church for not preventing it,” she said.

She said that her confidence and self-worth has been damaged as a result of the abuse: “I felt guilty, as if I had done something wrong.

“I am still afraid of him; the fear of him and the place,” she added.

She said that she found it difficult to make friendships in school and in later life and has become alienated from her family. “The abuse has caused a split in the family,” she said.

“I used to hate being a girl. I used to cut my hair short,” she told the court.

The girl's brother didn't wish to submit a victim impact statement, the court was told.

Defence counsel Anthony Sammon SC told the court that his client underwent intensive treatment in 1992/3.

He said that the issue was dealt with at the time by moving the priest on to another parish and gardaí were not contacted until the victim came forward two years ago.

Det Gda Shanley said, “There was no reason on his file as to why he was moved but it appears he was moved because of this.”

Mr Sammon said that his client has had significant health problems.

He read out a letter in court from his client, which was addressed to both victims.

In the letter, he apologised for the hurt he had caused: “Both of you were young, innocent and trusting. I abused that trust.

“The guilt is all mine. I take full responsibility.”



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