Sex assault during girl’s First Confession

John Calnan leavingcourt yesterday.

A priest in West Cork sexually assaulted a girl throughout her First Confession and, afterwards, fixed her clothing back in place and gave her penance.

John Calnan, aged 76, of The Presbytery, 35 Paul St, Cork, was yesterday sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, with the last year suspended, by Judge David Riordan at Cork Circuit Criminal Court. He had pleaded guilty.

Sgt Maurice Downey said the sexual assault on the girl occurred in the late 1980s. Due to terrible weather on the day, the principal of a primary school asked the priest to hear confessions for the Communion class in the school rather than bringing the children to the cathedral in Skibbereen. Sgt Downey said the confessions took place in a kitchenette at the end of a school hall.

“When the victim entered, he told her to come over to him and she was put standing between his legs turning to look at him. When she began to say her confession he lifted her pinafore and placed his hand inside her underwear and stroked and rubbed her vagina area and put his fingers inside her vagina,” Sgt Downey said.

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“She said he was doing something to himself but she did not know what it was. He then gave her penance.”

When the allegations were put to Calnan three years ago, the priest said he did not recall it but, when pushed, said it did not occur.

Judge Riordan said that an aggravating factor in the case was that Calnan carried out the indecent assault while he and the child were engaging in the sacrament of penance.

In her victim impact statement, the injured party — now aged in her mid-30s — said: “On the day of the assault and the days following, our home place was full of upset, confusion, and anger at how something of this disgusting nature could take place. This priest, who called to the family home regularly; there was a sense of family pride associated with this. How could he abuse their little girl?

“When brought to the attention of the school, my family were met with denial and a feeling of guilt and shame was inflicted on them. There were thinly veiled warnings about speaking out about such matters and how they would be thought of within the local community. At that point in time the Church was the dominant force and not to be challenged on any matter.

“Two wonderful parents who have huge guilt and remorse for something that was not their fault are two more victims of that awful day. I feel so sick for my parents. I feel a sense of guilt so overwhelming that it has taken over my life to this day.

“I have lost faith in the institute of the Catholic Church and all those who represent that institute. John Calnan has taken this belief I had in the Catholic Church and robbed me and my family of the solace and peace in which we previously had a belief so strong, a belief carried through the generations in my family.

“I strive to control every aspect of my life. I will dive before I fall. At least then I have control, something I did not have on the day of the assault in that small, sweaty kitchenette.”

Tom Creed, defending, said the accused had serious health problems. Calnan had been jailed for a year in February for an indecent assault on a girl, aged about 10, when he picked her up in his car saying he was looking for directions.

Sgt Downey said the priest, ordained in 1964, served most of his time in West Cork.

In 1992 he stopped ministering and went to the Gracewell clinic in Birmingham to deal with his offending behaviour.

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