A paedophile priest from Dublin who abused seven children, including altar boys, over a 34-year period has been jailed for 15 years.
“Predatory” Francis Paul Cullen, 85, pleaded guilty to 21 charges of indecent assault and other sexual offences last month after being extradited to the UK last year following 22 years on the run in Tenerife.
The offences were committed between 1957 and 1991 on children aged between six and 14.
Today Cullen looked down in the dock at Derby Crown Court as sentence was passed.
Judge Jonathan Gosling told the former clergyman: “You took full advantage of your position, and the trust in which you were held, to satisfy your perverted lust.”
He added: “It is impossible to reconcile the fact that you were administering the sacraments of the Catholic Church – baptism, confession, communion, confirmation – at the same time as you were indulging yourself with these children, some of whom served you on the altar at which you celebrated.
“To say that you were a disgrace to your cloth understates your activity. This was gross hypocrisy. In a sentence, your entire life was a lie.”
Dublin-born Cullen was traced to Tenerife last year with the help of the Catholic Church's safeguarding board.
He was extradited back to the UK on a European arrest warrant containing a series of sexual abuse charges.
The clergyman was due to deny the charges at Derby Crown Court last month but changed his plea to guilty on what would have been the first day of his trial.
He admitted 15 counts of indecent assault, five of indecency with a child and one of attempted buggery.
The crimes, committed against five altar boys and two young girls whose relatives had connections with the Catholic Church, took place while Cullen was a serving priest in Mackworth and Buxton, both Derbyshire, and Hyson Green, Nottingham.
Four altar boys were abused while Cullen was practising in Mackworth, Derbyshire, between the 1950s and 1970s.
In the 1980s, he abused two girls after he moved to work in Buxton, Derbyshire, and then went on to abuse another altar boy in the early 1990s after he moved to Nottinghamshire.
The clergyman fled to Tenerife in 1991 while facing charges of sexual assault brought by Nottinghamshire Police.
Opening the case today, prosecutor Sarah Knight told the court that Cullen had been a “well-liked and respected” clergyman whom families trusted and children “idolised”.
They were unaware of the “predatory paedophile” which lurked behind the mask, Ms Knight told the court.
She said his ministry in the Catholic Church had been “a lie” which he used to abuse boys and girls in his pastoral care.
The court heard that many of the altar boys were invited to have tea and cake with Cullen at his home where he then abused them.
Others were attacked after Mass or in his caravan on Cub Scout trips which he ran.
Cullen even travelled to Ireland to visit one victim while he was on holiday, the court heard.
The judge said: “You were also welcomed into the parents’ homes. They could never have guessed that in truth you were a predatory paedophile – a term which was at that time unknown to the vocabulary. You were, in reality, cunning, devious, arrogant – in the word of one of your victims ’despicable’.”
Cullen was ordained in May 1953 and worked as a parish priest of Christ the King, in Mackworth, Derby, between 1960 and 1978. He then moved to St Anne's Church, Buxton, in 1978 where he remained until 1987. A year later he moved to St Mary's Church in Hyson Green, Nottingham, where he remained until 1991.
He had worked at churches in Scunthorpe, Leicester and Alfreton, Derbyshire, before moving to Mackworth.
Ms Knight told the court how Cullen’s victims, some of which were at the hearing today, had struggled to come to terms with the abuse throughout their lives.
One victim has attempted to take her own life while others were prescribed medication to deal with the after effects of the abuse, the court heard.
In one impact statement directed at Cullen that was read out to the court, the victim said: “You said you had a calling from God to join the priesthood. You are correct to say you had a calling... just it was from the Devil.”
Cullen appeared at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court in late 1991 charged with three counts of sexual assault against three altar boys.
While on bail awaiting his next court appearance, Cullen, then in his 60s, fled to Tenerife where he remained for the next 22 years.
A warrant had been issued for his arrest but was withdrawn in 2000.
Derbyshire Police launched their investigation in 2005 after an altar boy who had been abused in the 1960s came forward.
Inquiries, including the use of Interpol, failed to track down Cullen and the case was closed pending further information.
It was reopened a year later when a woman who had been abused by Cullen in Buxton in the 1980s came forward. The investigation was closed again when Cullen could not be traced.
The breakthrough came five years later when Cullen was traced to Tenerife in 2012 with the help of the Nottingham Catholic Safeguarding body, Derbyshire Police said.
Police were told Cullen had attended Sunday mass at the same church in Playa de las Americas for 20 years.
He was finally detained and extradited on a European Arrest Warrant on the island on August 20 last year by officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).
Further victims came to light following his extradition.
Today Judge Gosling praised the police officers involved in the “long and difficult” inquiry but also the Nottingham Catholic Safeguarding body.
He also praised the victims for their “strength and determination”.
Judge Gosling said: “There have been a number of efforts over the years by the police to trace Francis Cullen and bring him to justice.
“The victims of this man’s abuse have found it extremely hard to come forward and maintain their determination to see justice done.
“This must have been acutely difficult, in particular when some of them discovered, as surely they did, that following his extradition he was proposing to fight the allegations.”
Addressing the victims, he added: “I hope that the conclusion of this case will enable them to come to terms with what they suffered over many decades”.
Following Cullen's sentencing, Father Andrew Cole, spokesman for the Diocese of Nottingham, said: "The Diocese of Nottingham is pleased that Cullen has been given a custodial sentence which reflects the gravity of his offences and the scandal which they have caused.
“We realise that no sentence, however long, can fully make up for the lasting damage which his victims have suffered, but we hope that his sentence will contribute towards their healing.
“We will continue to work with the police and other statutory authorities whenever allegations of abuse arise, and will ensure that our churches and parishes are safe and welcoming for all members of the community.
“We are truly sorry for the wrong that has been done by Cullen to his victims and their families; their trust was betrayed and their dignity violated. We will do whatever we can to support Cullen’s victims and all who have been affected by this tragedy.
“The abuse of children is evil and cannot be tolerated. The Catholic Church takes the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults extremely seriously, and it is our hope and expectation that no child or vulnerable adult should ever suffer at the hands of others.”