Thursday 22 August 2019

Closed-door hearing agreed for 'crystal-meth' priest

Fr Michael O'Leary
Fr Michael O'Leary

Orla O'Sullivan

A New York judge yesterday chastised a Dublin born priest Fr. Michael O'Leary for failing to complete the full term of his drug rehabilitation but agreed to let his case on four drugs charges go to a closed-door hearing.

The charges, including criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, are to be heard in a higher court, Westchester County Court, probably in about two months.

Peekskill City Court Judge, Reginald J. Johnson, meanwhile expressed displeasure over the rehab mandated for Fr. O’Leary after his arrest allegedly with a half-ounce of methamphetamine, scales and packaging materials in Peekskill, New York, on St. Patrick’s Day.

“You only attended 80 days. I don’t know what the deal is with that, but you don’t get to decide. Ninety days is 90 days.”

The Bronx-based priest has a 2017 charge for drunk driving in the US, where he is a citizen.

He is also the subject of a pending High Court case in Ireland involving a dispute with his siblings over his mother’s will.

His case was called twice yesterday for momentary hearings in the small, suburban courthouse an hour north of midtown Manhattan.

In the first, the prosecution and defense approached the bench for a hushed conversation. Fr. O’Leary’s lawyer, MaryPat Long, could be overheard saying, “He went to St. Christopher’s [Inn] for, like, 80 days.”

The nearby rehab, run by Franciscan Friars in Garrison, New York, is known to be popular with priests struggling with addiction.

Fr. O’Leary yesterday spoke only to give his name. He introduced himself simply as “Michael O’Leary” in each hearing although his Linkedin profile lists him as a priest practicing in New York for 21 years.

He wore a suit and open-necked shirt.

The Archdiocese of New York confirmed in a statement to yesterday: “O'Leary is still a priest, but he has not had an assignment for several years and is currently suspended.”

In a Decree of Suspension issued two days after his recent arrest, the Archdiocese recommended that he be dismissed citing, "Fr. O'Leary's persistent disobedience, his manifest lack of suitability for ministry and his arrest for possession of illegal drugs…”

One possible outcome of yesterday’s proceeding was that the prosecution might have reduced his felony charges to misdemeanors, leaving the judge to decide his sentence, should he plead guilty.

Asked whether Michael Borrelli, the Assistant District Attorney for Westchester Co., had declined to reduce the charges, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office said, “We do not comment on that.”

Of the four charges against Fr. O’Leary, criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell is classified as the third most serious of five degrees of felony. Criminal possession of a controlled substance is fourth degree. The other two charges are two counts of criminal use of drug paraphernalia, not further classified.

Fr. O’Leary and his lawyer declined to comment. Fr. O’Leary was charged in 2017 with drunk driving (Driving While Ability Impaired) in the town of Woodbury, NY.

In Ireland, he is the subject of a High Court case over the will made by his late mother, Elizabeth O'Leary of Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, Dublin. She died in September 2014.

The High Court agreed on June 25 to adjourn that hearing until Fr. O’ Leary could come to Ireland to give evidence, as his bail allows.

Four siblings seek an order condemning the will made in 2009, five years before Ms. O'Leary’s death, in part because they say she was not of sound mind when it was executed and that Fr. O’Leary and his brother, John, exerted undue influence on her. His siblings - Nora Harpur, Barry O'Leary, Tadgh O'Leary and Marie O'Leary - brought the action.

The claims are denied.

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