There were scenes of joy and relief at the Nano Nagle Centre outside Mallow in North Cork as victims were brought in to hear the judgment from three canon law judges yesterday.
It is understood up to 11 complaints of abuse were lodged with gardaí over the years about Fr Dan Duane, aged 75, from Mallow but just two cases were prosecuted and both resulted in not guilty verdicts. The diocese has settled civil cases with at least five of victims.
In its judgment, the canonical court “reached the decision with moral certainty” that the priest had sexually abused teenagers and minors when working as a priest in the diocese.
The judges stated that “the decision of the court as a result of their findings is that” he “should be dismissed from the clerical state”. Meeting victims yesterday, they assured the women that the decision was not a recommendation but a decision.
In a statement yesterday, the diocese said: “A number of complaints of sexual abuse of minors against a priest of the Diocese of Cloyne have been upheld by a canonical penal trial. The priest has been dismissed from the clerical state. The diocese will continue to offer counselling and pastoral support to all who have been abused, and wishes to expresses deep regret at the suffering that has been caused.”
One victim who attended the canonical tribunal, Isabella O’Mahony, said she felt “a massive sense of relief”.
“For me, the best thing was just hearing the verdict and asking them to read it again and again,” she said. “I feel like crying but I feel like cheering. I just feel lighter as, for the first time ever, the Church has listened and believed us.”
Another victim, Sinead, said she believed the women had suffered further pain at the criminal justice system’s failure to convict Fr Duane but that this canonical decision would not to be taken lightly by him. She said their battle for justice “had been relentless” and “only succeeded because we, as a group, refused to give up”.
“I feel a great sense of relief today,” she said. “In some ways, it might be better that his church and peers found him guilty as clearly he has no respect for the criminal law system.”
In May 2011, at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin directed that Fr Duane be found not guilty of indecently assaulting a teenager. The judge made the direction on the grounds of the 30-year delay in making the complaint.
Six months later, Fr Duane was found not guilty at the same court of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl 31 years earlier. This woman was one of the women who gave evidence to the canonical tribunal.
Yesterday, she said: “We have struggled with a legal system that has consistently let us down. It is ironic, therefore, that it is the Church, which at first turned us away, that now finds Dan Duane unanimously guilty.”
Fr Duane has 15 days within which to appeal the canonical court decision. Implementation of the decision does not take place until the appeal is heard.