Referring to the long delay as he directed the jury to find Fr Daniel Duane not guilty, Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said: “Outing of complaints in relation to clergy is standard now.”
Retired Fr Duane, aged 73, from Mallow, Co Cork, went on trial at Cork Circuit Criminal Court on Monday and pleaded not guilty to indecently assaulting a female on a date between September 1980 and April 1982 at his house of the time. The complainant claimed Fr Duane kissed her on the lips and fondled her breasts.
One woman in the public gallery was escorted from the court after she shouted remarks as it became clear that the case would not go to the jury.
James O’Mahony SC, for Fr Duane, made a legal application at the close of evidence that the judge should direct the jury to find Fr Duane not guilty, laying particular emphasis on the fact the complainant did not approach the gardaí until August 2010.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said: “I propose to direct the jury to find the accused not guilty by direction of the judge. After careful consideration of all the evidence, in my view the delay is inexplicable.”
The judge said he had specific views on why the complainant, in the context of her life since the alleged incident, could have brought the complainant sooner. It is not possible to give details of her life, as it could identify her.
“How do you explain to the jury the delay against that background?” the judge asked.
“I am concerned [that] when this [alleged assault] happened in the afternoon, she says she was alone in the house [with the defendant], when the defendant has established to my satisfaction that there was a housekeeper who lived in and a curate who lived in.
“Given the likely presence of these people in the house in the afternoon and their ability to give a statement had a complaint been made earlier, [the delay] is worrying.”
The judge was also worried about what he called the broad spectrum of time in which the complainant said the incident could have happened: September 1980 to April 1982.
He said the complainant had had no counselling or treatment for the alleged sexual assault.
“If you stack all these worries, some major, some minor, how can I address a jury and direct them and say a jury, properly charged, could convict? If a jury came back with a verdict of guilty I would have the profoundest worry about the efficacy of that finding. I intend to direct the jury to find him not guilty,” the judge said.
Prosecution barrister Donal McCarthy said the jury could have been asked to understand the delay in terms of the nature of Irish society that prevailed 30 years ago and for a long time afterwards, particularly in rural areas.
The judge responded: “I don’t agree that a backward type of society existed for anything like as long as you think. Outing of complaints in relation to clergy is standard now for years past.”
The complainant testified during the trial: “I spoke about my mother… I was upset. I was crying at the time and he said: ‘I will comfort you.’ He leaned over towards me and kissed me on the lips. He put his right hand over my left shoulder. He fondled my breasts then. It was maybe about a minute.
“My initial reaction was absolute shock. I started to freeze. I told him to fuck off and then I went towards the door. He did not protest or anything,” she said.
She did not make a complaint until last year. She said she did not tell her mother as she was ill, and added: “My father would have killed me, I don’t think he would have believed me, partly that I had cursed at a priest. In my house, we did not do it and certainly did not curse at a priest.”
Fr Duane also gave evidence and denied indecently assaulting the complainant. Asked if he recalled ever meeting her, he replied: “No.”
When asked, Fr Duane said he did not recognise her when he saw her in court on Monday.