Priest (77) gets year's jail for abuse of 3 girls

Irish Times
February 13, 2002

A priest aged 77 was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment yesterday for indecently assaulting three girls.

Concurrent sentences of 12 months on each of 13 counts of indecent assault were imposed by Judge Anthony Kennedy on Father James Prunty, Cloone, Co Leitrim, stated to be now living in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford.

The offences were committed in a midland town between 1956 and 1959. Prunty pleaded guilty to the 13 sample counts from an original total of 76 charges.

The court heard details of how the accused had indecently abused the girls in their homes, in the parish church where he was a highly regarded curate, and in the confession box in the church.

The case was heard in camera, and an application by defence counsel Mr Patrick Gageby SC that the accused not be named in press reports was rejected by Judge Kennedy. However, he banned publication of anything likely to identify any of the injured parties.

The judge also refused to allow a solicitor holding a watching brief for Dr Colm O'Reilly, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, and two other persons to remain in court during the hearing.

The court heard that Prunty used to put girls on his knee and would then place his hand under their clothing and fondle them. He would then give them presents and sweets.

One of the injured parties, speaking on behalf of all three, said the abuse began when she was 10 years.

She described how, while attending children's confession in her parish church, the priest would remove the grille and put his hand through the opening to tickle her, and then under her clothing.

As a result she was terrified to go to confession. She said the experience had ruined her life, and would continue to do so.

Prunty told the court that he has a brother and two sisters in religion. He expressed sincere sorrow for his actions and said he was deeply ashamed that he had hurt young people who trusted him, adding: "I have betrayed my vocation and my church."

After hearing three character witnesses on behalf of the accused and an appeal for leniency by Mr Gageby, Judge Kennedy said that an aggravating factor in the case was that some of the offences had been committed in a church, and even within a confession box.

The victims had also been abused in their own homes, where the accused was a welcome visitor, he said.

Referring to the clerical power in the 1950s, Judge Kennedy said that in the eyes of these young children the priest was God, and it would have been impossible for them to talk about his conduct, never mind complain about it.

He said the sentence imposed had to be of a custodial nature, and taking all factors into consideration, he sentenced Prunty to 12 months' imprisonment on each count, the sentences to be served concurrently.




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