Priest who sexually abused girls making first confession gets suspended sentence

Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

Girls making their first confession were sexually abused by a priest who afterwards put his hand on their heads and said: “Your sins are forgiven.”

Girls making their first confession were sexually abused by a priest who afterwards put his hand on their heads and said: “Your sins are forgiven.”

John Calnan, 79, who is now living at The Presbytery, Roman St, Cork, was yesterday given an 18-month, fully suspended sentence, on five counts of indecent assault, at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.

Detective Garda Maurice Shanley said two girls were sexually abused as they each went into a room alone with the priest to make their first confession. They were aged six or seven.

A third girl was similarly abused when she was around the age of 10, again during confession. All of the indecent assaults consisted of Calnan putting his hand up their dresses, inside their underwear, and rubbing their vaginas or putting a finger inside their vaginas. It happened in the mid- to late 1970s.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabáin said:

This is outrageous, to do this to innocent young girls, who were undergoing a sacrament of the church. The breach of trust is phenomenal. The man has taken significant steps to rehabilitate in Gracewell [treatment centre in Birmingham], before he was ever outed as an offender. He has — if I can use the word — religiously followed up on his rehabilitation. He has attended a relapse-prevention group and [from a report] he has developed empathy.

“He has not reoffended. Given his age and the level of his rehabilitation, I see no point or purpose in imprisoning him at this stage.

Defence barrister John Devlin said the accused had very poor health.

Detective Garda Shanley said the victims thought what the priest was doing to them was part of confession.

Calnan has been jailed previously for sex crimes against children. In July 2012, at the Central Criminal Court, he was sentenced to eight years, with the last three years suspended, for attempted rape and three counts of indecently assaulting a girl and one of indecently assaulting a boy.

In April 2015, he got a three-year sentence, with the last year suspended, for indecently assaulting a girl. In March of this year, he got a suspended two-year sentence for indecently assaulting another girl.

Judge Ó Donnabháin wondered why the five counts against Calnan, related to three victims, were not brought before the court in March with the other case.

The three victims of yesterday’s cases were all in attendance at Cork Circuit Criminal Court. Only one of them had a victim impact statement, which was read by Det Garda Shanley.

She said: “I did not know if his actions were part of confession. I felt no-one would believe me. I was ashamed and embarrassed. It would kill my parents to know what he did to me.

I want him to admit that what he did was so wrong. I was so relieved when the guards told me he was pleading guilty.”

Calnan was ordained in 1964, serving most of the time in Co Cork. In 1992, he stopped ministering as a priest and went to the Gracewell clinic in Birmingham to deal with his offending behaviour.

The judge directed that no details of the precise locations for the sexual assaults be published, so that the three victims could not be identified.

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