A QUARTER of a century after he first warned the Catholic Church authorities that Fr Thomas Naughton was sexually abusing local children, former garda John Brennan could allow himself a sense of vindication as the paedophile priest was sent to prison for a second time yesterday.
“Justice was done today after a gap of 25 years,” he smiled.
Mr Brennan, a parishioner in Valleymount, Co Wicklow, where Naughton served as a curate in the early 1980s, was one of the first people to alert parish priest Fr Maurice Dufficy about his colleague’s conduct, after he had been approached by two women from the local area.
Yesterday he recalled that his initial complaint was largely treated as a joke by the parish priest who had also dismissed other complainants. However, when he repeated the warning in 1984, it resulted in Naughton being speedily transferred within a week to another parish in Dublin where he continued to abuse other young boys.
Although earlier complaints by parishioners had effectively been ignored, the Church took action after Mr Brennan said he would treat the matter more seriously if the allegations were ignored.
But instead of being thanked for alerting Naughton’s superiors to the priest’s crimes, Brennan and his family found themselves ostracised by local clergy and their neighbours.
Around the same time, questions were raised about money which Mr Brennan had raised for local community and parish groups, while his wife, who ran local junior discos, also faced accusations after empty beer cans were found outside the venue.
“Things were being said off the altar which undermined our position,” said Mr Brennan.
The retired garda sergeant, who runs a pub in Kilteel, Co Kildare, said they also received abusive letters, some of which contained human excrement, shortly after reporting suspicious behaviour by Naughton.
He said a forensic expert had found such letters were written by “an educated hand” who tried to disguise their writing as that of an uneducated person.
Mr Brennan said he had not reported the suspected sexual abuse by Naughton to gardaí, as the parents of the alleged victims had not wanted the civil authorities to be involved.
Although his family re-established their lives, he said the experience had a big impact on them.
Speaking outside Wicklow Circuit Criminal Court sitting in Bray yesterday, after Naughton was sentenced to three years in jail (with 12 months suspended) for abusing an altar boy in Valleymount between 1982 and 1984, Mr Brennan described the priest as a “pathetic little old man”.
“He is a human being with a weakness. He had a psychiatric problem that he couldn’t handle. And when I asked his authorities, they didn’t help him. They moved him on from parish to parish.”
He said Cardinal Desmond Connell had also met him in advance of a civil action against the Church by Mervyn Rundle, another of Naughton’s victims in the mid-1990s at which he was due to be called as a witness. Mr Brennan said he informed the former Archbishop of Dublin that he would fully blame the Church authorities in his evidence for the priest’s behaviour.
The case was settled within a few weeks with Mr Rundle being paid over £320,000 without the matter going to court.
However, Mr Brennan said he now favoured a Garda investigation into all the bishops in the Archdiocese of Dublin who had handled complaints of child sexual abuse by priests.
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