A PRIEST falsely accused of child sexual abuse yesterday publicly forgave his accuser - and asked a court to show mercy when sentencing him.
Paul Anderson (34) claimed the priest had buggered him while giving him First Holy Communion prayer tuition more than 25 years ago.
The allegations, made four years ago, were untrue, but the priest was instantly and publicly suspended from ministry while the claims were investigated.
During an emotional victim-impact statement read to Dublin Circuit Criminal Court yesterday, the priest said he would have preferred to have been shot in the head than for him and his family to have gone through the last four years.
Anderson was jailed for four years for making the false complaint.
The jury returned a 10-2 majority guilty verdict after deliberating for almost six hours at the end of the 17-day trial.
Anderson - of Crumlin Park, Crumlin, and formerly of Fatima Mansions and Iveagh Trust Flats, New Bride Street, Dublin - had denied falsely accusing the priest.
He denied making a false statement to Detective Garda Brian Kavanagh at Kevin Street garda station on June 18, 2003, that acts of indecent assault and buggery were committed on him by the priest between February and May 1981.
Det Sgt Martin Mooney told the court that when the garda investigation revealed Anderson's claims were untrue, the priest was reinstated to his pastoral ministry at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 2003 and received a standing ovation from the congregation.
Judge Patricia Ryan said the court had considered letters and testimonials, including a victim-impact statement from the priest.
During that statement, the priest said he hoped the result would not stop genuine victims of child sexual abuse from coming forward.
He thanked the professionalism of the gardai, who "gave me back my very life".
He would be forever grateful and particularly mentioned Det Sgt Mooney and Det Gda Kavanagh, "who approached this case with meticulous attention to detail that uncovered the truth and led to justice being done".
In his statement, he said that as a result of Anderson and the One-in-Four group going to the Archbishop of Dublin, he was instantly suspended from ministry.
"Without any due process, my diocese - in this Guantanamo Bay reaction - had me stand aside from my work as a priest. I had to leave my house and home and stay with family and friends, and I lost almost a year out of my pastoral work." He described the allegations against him as being like a case of armed robbery, with the accuser using his name and reputation in order to extract money from the Church.
"I would have honestly preferred had the perpetrator shot me through the head rather than have put me and my family through the pangs of anxiety and the profound sufferings we endured over the past four years." He said his ordeal had given him "a deeper insight into the mind of Christ", who had also been falsely accused.
"And since his standard of forgiveness was 'seventy times seven times' then surely I must be able to find it in me to forgive Paul Anderson - which I now do - and I do so wholeheartedly.
"So may I sincerely ask that this be taken into merciful consideration by the court when sentence is being passed," he said.
Handing down sentence, Judge Ryan said the court had also taken into account medical evidence on behalf of Anderson regarding his suicidal tendencies, including an overdose he took before his trial was initially due to come before the court.
She noted also the further submission by defence counsel Damien Colgan that Anderson had no previous convictions and had a good work record.
Judge Ryan said the aggravating factor was that his false claim was planned to try and extract money from the Church, and the court had to mark the seriousness of the offence by imposing a four-year sentence.
Mr Colgan earlier told Judge Ryan that Anderson has found prison "harrowing and difficult" since going into custody following his conviction.
Judge Ryan refused his application for leave to appeal conviction and sentence.
The jury heard that Anderson was €9,000 in debt and his car had been repossessed when he made the allegations, but he denied in evidence that he had planned to sue the priest and a nun he falsely claimed sent him for prayer tuition, as well as a Christian Brother he also named to gardai.
Evidence showed that neither Anderson nor any other pupil from his school had ever been sent to the priest for Holy Communion prayer tuition and he admitted he had never been sexually abused by any brother.