Former priest avoids jail a second time after abuse of niece aged six
Published 23/11/2016 | 02:30
A former priest who sexually abused his niece more than 30 years ago has avoided jail for a second time, despite an appeal by prosecutors in a case described as "rare and exceptional".
The 60-year-old, whose details cannot be published to protect the victim's identity, had pleaded guilty to 12 counts of sexually assaulting his niece on dates in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
She was aged between six and 13 and he was in his 20s. He was given wholly suspended 18-month sentences by Judge Pat McCartan on March 1.
The Director of Public Prosecutions sought a review of the man's sentence on grounds that it was unduly lenient. However, the Court of Appeal found yesterday that the sentencing judge acted within his discretion.
Giving judgment, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said the offences took place when the man was visiting or staying in the family home while he was studying for the priesthood.
He was confronted in the mid to late 1980s by the girl's parents. He duly informed his bishop who contacted the gardaí, who interviewed the victim's parents.
Nothing further appeared to have been done at that time because of the reluctance of the victim's parents to pursue the matter, Mr Justice Mahon said.
That remained the case until 2013, when the victim approached the gardaí following the death of her mother.
In the aftermath of his disclosure to his Bishop, the man attended counselling.
In 1994 he moved to America where he applied for laicisation.
He later moved to London "he says as a form of self exile", Mr Justice Mahon said.
The sentencing judge described the circumstances of the case as "unique". The level and extent of the man's acknowledgement of the abuse at a point in time when the "full horrors" of clerical child sex abuse were "only emerging" was "itself remarkable and unusual", Mr Justice Mahon said.
The fact that he informed his bishop, engaged in rehabilitation and sought laicisation within six years of being confronted by the victim's parents indicated a degree of remorse or guilt "not often seen in these types of cases".
This, coupled with the "speedy reporting" by the Church to the gardaí, "might be considered as unusual" in a case of historical child sex abuse from 30 years ago.
On the other side of the coin, a young girl was abused by her uncle in a manner that can only be described as serious.
It was only in rare and exceptional cases that acts of sexual abuse committed by adults against children will not merit a prison sentence.
"At this remove, this is one of those cases" but he said it "almost certainly" would not have been had it been prosecuted in the late 1980s or 1990s.