Priest who sexually assaulted girl (6) during First Confession avoids jail due to 'old age and health problems'

By Ralph Riegel
Irish Independent
April 24, 2018

Former priest John Calnan leaving Cork Court after being convicted on charges of sexual assault of a 6 year old girl while hearing her confession. Pic: Cork Courts

AN ELDERLY priest sexually assaulted a six-year-old girl during her First Confession and, when the abuse ended, put his hand on her head, blessed her and said her sins were now forgiven.

The girl, who is now in her 50s, said at the time she believed what the priest did was all part of the First Confession ceremony.

Retired priest John Calnan (79) was told by Judge Sean O'Donnabhain at Cork Circuit Criminal Court that his breach of trust was "phenomenal."

The judge said it was clear that Calnan was a serial offender - and the fact that some of the girls believed the abuse was part of a church ceremony was "obviously an outrage."

The elderly cleric, who had pleaded guilty to all the offences, avoided jail with an 18-month suspended prison sentence for the abuse of the three young girls.

Judge O'Donnabhain said that given Calnan's advanced age and serious health problems, a custodial sentence would not be appropriate.

Calnan appeared before the court on a signed plea of guilty in respect of five counts of indecently assaulting three girls in the Diocese of Cork and Ross between 1974 and 1978.

The victims cannot be identified for legal reasons.

The retired priest, who was first ordained in 1964 but hasn't worked in ministry since 1992, has served several prison sentences since first being convicted of indecent assault and attempted rape of other youngsters in 2012 and 2015.

Judge O'Donnabhain was told by Det Garda Maurice Shanley that an investigation was launched after complaints were received from three women.

All alleged the then-priest had indecently assaulted them during Church ceremonies in Cork when they were aged from six to eight years.

One woman said that, when she was six, she was taken into a room alone with Calnan at a national school for her First Confession.

In a statement to Gardaí, the woman said she remembered looking at Calnan and his eyes were closed as he abused her.

Afterwards, Calnan "put his hand on her head and said: God bless you - your sins have been forgiven."

In a hard-hitting victim impact statement, the woman said the abuse had devastated her.

"I feel ashamed and embarrassed of my teenage years," she said.

"I spent my teenage years feeling ashamed and dirty. I had no respect for my body and for myself."

"I never go to Mass now - I sit in the church by myself and talk to God."

"I just wanted him to admit that what he did to me was so wrong."

The other two victims were also indecently assaulted during Confession either at schools or at churches.

When one girl tried to get away from Calnan, he insisted that he was only trying to tickle her.

Another girl complained about how rough Calnan was with her.

"They were like shovels - they were big hands," he added.

One victim said she felt she couldn't tell her parents what had happened because they were friendly with Calnan and held the Church in high esteem.

"It would kill them to know what he did to me," she said.

Det Garda Shanley said that when Calnan was first interviewed about the allegations in 2015, he was serving a prison sentence in Dublin.

Calnan readily admitted what the women had alleged.

The retired cleric is now resident at The Presbytery, Roman Street in Cork and is under careful supervision.

In 1992, before any indecent assault allegations were made against him, he stopped his priestly duties and went to the Gracewell Clinic in Birmingham to deal with his offending behaviour.

Calnan has continued to go to counselling and behavioural support meetings since then.

The court was told he has taken full responsibility for his actions and now has great empathy with his victims.

Calnan has chronic heart problems and serious mobility issues.



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