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Sunday 21 September 2014

Priest apologises to family for sex trial comments at funeral

Published 26/11/2013 | 16:40

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John Murray: convicted on five charges of sexual assault
John Murray: convicted on five charges of sexual assault

A PRIEST has apologised to a family after using their father’s funeral to ask for prayers for a former Lord Mayor of Cork facing sex assault charges.

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Fr Martin Crean OSA contacted the Cotter family in Cork to express his personal regret over what happened at the Requiem Mass and to apologise for any hurt caused.

The Cotter family confirmed to the Irish Independent that they accepted the apology and now consider the matter closed.

Michelle Cotter said she couldn't believe the comments made by the priest, who was visiting Cork from Tipperary, which were brought to her attention by other mourners at her the funeral of her father, John.

Fr Crean, who is based in Fethard in Tipperary, used one of the Prayers of Intercession last Thursday to remember John Murray who served as Lord Mayor of Cork in 1993/94.

The funeral took place just hours before the jury were sent out to consider their verdict in Murray’s Circuit Criminal Court trial.

The veteran Labour Party official was convicted on Friday, following a four day trial, of five counts of sexual assault against a young teen between 1996 and 1998.

Murray was remanded in custody and will now be sentenced on December 2 next.

Fr Crean moved back to Ireland  after serving many years in Africa and was based in Cork from 2001 to 2009 where he is understood to have come to know John Murray.

He has been in Fethard for four years.

The Bishop of Cork & Ross, Dr John Buckley, slated as “offensive and inappropriate” the comments made by the Limerick-born Augustinian friar.

Fr Crean referred all media queries yesterday to the Provincial of the Augustinian Order, Fr John Hennebry.

The friar has now gone on a two-day break and will not be contactable until his return.

Fr Hennebry also apologised to the Cotter family and all those upset by the remarks.

“The prayer was wholly inappropriate. This intervention has caused great distress. I have discussed the matter at great length with the friar and he can now see how wholly inappropriate it was," he added.

The issue is being handled by the Order rather than the Dioceses of Cork & Ross or Cashel & Emly.

The Cotter family admitted they were appalled that an emotional family event should be used for such a prayer.

"We are all in shock. We didn't comprehend at first what had been said. I didn't hear it...when we went back (for the funeral meal) I heard things that were being said. One person asked me who was the man they were praying for so he could get off on the charges?"

"I was confused...I didn't know what they were talking about. If I had known then what I know now I would have approached him (the priest)."

She said the Cotter family were very appreciative of the fact people respected them enough not to walk out over the comments.

"It was inappropriate and it wasn't nice. It caused an awful lot of upset to my family and to the people that attended my father's funeral. I couldn't believe it. Imagine the devastation and the upset that it caused the victim? And the family in the (court) case - it was absolutely appalling."

The Bishop of Cork & Ross warned that the comments were "offensive and inappropriate."

“The comments were to do with a case which was before the courts. The diocese was unaware the comments were going to be made and the Bishop says he doesn’t stand over them and sincerely regrets the obvious hurt they have caused.”

“The diocese fully respects the independence of the D.P.P and Courts Service and it is inappropriate that a funeral mass should be used in such a manner.”

The victim of the sex assaults, who was a young teen at the time of the first offence in 1996 but who is now in her 30s, sobbed as the verdicts were returned last Friday.

She repeatedly broke down during her evidence at the trial where she outlined the details of the sexual assaults she was subjected to.

She said the former Lord Mayor whispered that she was “a very beautiful girl” and that he “would love to f*** her.”

Ralph Riegel

Irish Independent

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