Blue Murder: the Priest, a Stolen Laptop and Gay Porn

By Cormac McQuinn
Irish Independent
May 5, 2012

In the name of the father: Fr Martin McVeigh, parish priest in Pomeroy, Co Tyrone, who has gone to ground

As the parents and children of the sleepy northern village of Pomeroy gather today for this year's First Holy Communion ceremony, they will be doing so without local priest Fr Martin McVeigh.

A pillar of the community who was highly respected in Tyrone GAA circles, Fr McVeigh has been on "sabbatical leave" after becoming embroiled in controversy after inadvertently showing gay pornographic slides to a group of parents.

Fr McVeigh denies the images were his and the PSNI says he has no case to answer.

But the controversy has refused to go away -- with a bizarre series of subsequent events further adding to the intrigue.

These include the theft of a laptop and the circulation of rumours that Fr McVeigh was "set up" by persons unknown.

It all started on the night of March 26, when Fr McVeigh was using a laptop projector to give a presentation to 30 parents and one eight-year-old child on the forthcoming First Confession ceremony for pupils from St Mary's Gaelscoil in the village.

In the course of his talk he managed to project 16 explicit images of naked men on to a large screen, much to the mortification of the parents present.

At first, Fr McVeigh continued his presentation oblivious to the graphic images that had flashed up in front of the unsuspecting audience.

Then by his own account he began shaking when he realised what had appeared on screen.

According to outraged parents, the priest, who has had a long and distinguished career, then whipped the memory stick from the laptop computer and "bolted" from the room without explanation.

Had it not been so upsetting for the community and priest involved, the incident, and the strange sequence of events that ensued, could conceivably form the basis for a particularly farcical episode of Father Ted.

In the days that followed, Fr McVeigh denied all knowledge of how the images of gay pornography had managed to end up on a memory stick used on computers in the parish office.

He said he was "shocked" "bewildered" and "disgusted" by what had happened. This week, he described the past month as "the most difficult in my life".

Angry parents demanded that action be taken and church authorities launched an investigation into what had happened. The PSNI was consulted but refused to get involved as "no crime had been committed".

Since the incident, events have taken increasingly bizarre twists.

First it emerged that a laptop used by Fr McVeigh had been stolen from the parish office, an event police are still investigating.

Then the priest admitted that he had destroyed the memory stick containing the offending imagery with a hammer, saying he was appalled by its contents.

Fr McVeigh initially continued saying Mass on weekdays, with an outside priest assuming duties at the weekend.

However, he stopped after facing the threat of protests from members of his flock.

Church authorities met with parishioners two weeks ago and read out an 800-word statement clearing Fr McVeigh's name. But the statement was reportedly withdrawn after objections from parents.

And last Sunday, Fr McVeigh and Cardinal Brady both announced that the priest, who is in his early sixties, would be going on sabbatical.

The cardinal, himself at the centre of a separate controversy this week over his handling of child sex abuse allegations, stated Fr McVeigh would be returning to the diocese after an unspecified period of temporary leave.

In his message to his parishioners, Fr McVeigh said he recognised the incident was "very serious in nature" and "caused much anxiety and distress".

He said: "I apologise unreservedly for the hurt caused," but added: "I want to assure you, however, that I was not responsible for the presence of the offending images and in this respect I ask you to accept my innocence."

Fr McVeigh, originally from nearby Dungannon, was ordained a priest in 1976 and served as a curate in Termonfeckin and Drogheda in Co Louth, before later moving to London.

He has been the parish priest of Pomeroy, population 600, for more than 10 years.

In that time he has been highly active in the community, particularly getting involved with the local Plunkett's GAA club, where he serves as honorary president.

He has also been a prominent member of a local inter-church forum set up to promote co-operation between Catholic and Protestant clergymen in the wake of 1998's Omagh bombing.

He also accompanied Presbyterian and Church of Ireland clerics on a historic visit to the Vatican in 2004.

Despite his distinguished career, Pomeroy has been left divided over whether to support Fr McVeigh in light of the recent controversy.

One local woman told the Irish Independent this week: "We're all just sick of it," while another said: "Why don't the media give it a rest. We don't know what the poor craythur is going through."

Asked if villagers were supporting Fr McVeigh, she said: "It's like everything else, some are for him and some are against him."

Meanwhile, as far as some locals are concerned, Fr McVeigh was the victim of an elaborate set-up.

One local woman supporting the priest said: "I think there's only a small group of people who are against him. There's a lot of support.

"In my eyes I think he was set up."

Though he has been seen in Pomeroy as recently as Tuesday, staff at the parish office said they did not know Fr McVeigh's whereabouts.

One said: "It's a very tricky situation here."

The principal of St Mary's Gaelscoil, Sean Devlin, declined to comment, but did confirm that the Communions would be going ahead today as planned, albeit with a priest from a neighbouring parish officiating.

Meanwhile, Fr McVeigh has gone to ground, making himself unavailable for comment, and it is not known when, if ever, the priest will be returning to the parish he has served for more than a decade.


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