Friday 24 November 2017

Preyed upon by 'pillar of community'

Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

DENIS Nolan, like so many other priests, presented himself as the pillar of the community. He cared for the sick and elderly; he was a regular visitor to the local primary school; he gave baptisms and confessions at short notice. So when this journalist reported that the parish priest of Rathnew, Co Wicklow, was being investigated "in accordance with the safeguarding of children", there was understandable shock.

But as a garda investigation was launched into allegations of sexual abuse against Nolan, the victim's family could not have anticipated the challenges they were about to face.

The 'pillar of the community' had been taken away from its people, and some found that extremely difficult to accept.

The family displayed an extraordinary level of steel as mother, sons and daughters came to terms with truth – their loved one John Paul had been abused by the parish priest since an early age. Their lives were shattered, but not irreparably. Night after night, tears fell – and as mum Theresa admits, lives were almost lost.

John Paul told detectives Mick Larkin and Fergus O'Brien about the abuse– which happened night and day – at the hands of the parish priest. In his car, in his home, in the presbytery, in the church itself – it happened almost every day – and recalling it in detail was arguably the greatest challenge John Paul ever faced.

At Wicklow garda station, Det Sgt O'Brien and Det Gda Larkin were braced for one thing only – a denial. What priest would own up to such a crime? But to their surprise, Nolan confessed.

As the sentence date neared, the victim's family braced themselves for one last hurdle.

In a dignified manner, they entered the courtroom in Bray and watched as Nolan was given a custodial sentence.

John Paul can now rebuild his life.

"He destroyed my life and I just want this awful chapter behind me," he said.

As John Paul looks forward, this latest case of horrendous clerical abuse will make people look back. It reminds us of our darkest days, when children were ignored because others rallied behind a 'pillar of the community'.

Irish Independent

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