Former priest jailed for abusing siblings

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

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

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

The female victim told her mother, who went to a member of the clergy about it. Calnan was moved to another parish soon afterwards.

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 totalling 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.

Det Gda 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 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.

In her victim impact statement to the court, the female victim said that her confidence and self-worth has been damaged as a result of the abuse.

“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. “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.

Defence counsel Anthony Sammon SC told the court his client underwent intensive treatment in 1992 and 1993. He said 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.

Mr Sammon, who said his client has had significant health problems, read out a letter in court from Calnan, 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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