Priest given suspended term for abuse of schoolboy

By Elaine Keogh
Irish Times
Mar 6, 2010

A former sports master and spiritual adviser at Gormanston College, Co Meath, was given a 2½-year suspended sentence yesterday for indecently assaulting a pupil there in the 1970s.

Fr Ronald Bennett (75), who admitted indecently assaulting the boy during “sex education” lessons, has previously served a sentence for offences committed against other boys at the college.

Judge Donagh McDonagh imposed the suspended sentence after being told by the provincial of the Franciscan Order that Bennett was co-operating with a restrictive regime at the Franciscan home in Killiney, Co Dublin.

Trim Circuit Court was told that when Bennett would summons the pupil to his office he would tell him how to seduce girls before removing his trousers and underwear and masturbating him.

The offences had, State prosecutor Karl Hanahoe said, taken place on a weekly basis over a two-year period when the boy was aged 14 and 15.

The now adult victim told Judge McDonagh he made his complaint after reading reports of the previous case involving Bennett. In 2007 he was given a five-year suspended sentence for indecently assaulting four other schoolboys at the college. However, the DPP appealed the sentence and the Court of Criminal Appeal ordered Bennett to serve 2½ years of it; the balance was suspended.

“It caused me a lot of anger, and particularly some of the comments about the [Franciscan] Order. The judge praised the Franciscan Order for acting promptly when they became aware of it . . . I was well aware they did not act promptly,” said the victim in the latest case

Judge McDonagh said Bennett had been in a “unique position” in relation to the boys’ education, and had “taken advantage” of it to engage in “grossly inappropriate behaviour”. He acknowledged the offences were similar to the earlier offences, and normally all sentences for such offences would be served at the same time.

He said he was acutely aware of the regime the Order had put in place and Bennett was “in effect kept in secure surroundings”, and has no access to young people and is not permitted outside except for medical or therapeutic reasons.

Provincial of the Order Fr Caoimhín Ó Laoide told him the guidelines in place for Bennett were the most restrictive of any in place.

The judge said the appropriate sentence was 2½ years and suspended it for five years on a number of conditions, including that Bennett gave an undertaking to remain within the confines of the friary under the current regime for the next five years.

If he is moved, the same regime is to be imposed there. He said he was not imposing a custodial sentence for the “simple reason it seems the Franciscan Order has effectively placed him in custody and that is to continue”.

He directed that his name be placed on the sex offenders’ registrar for 10 years.























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