LITTLE girls making their First Confession were sexually abused during the sacrament by a priest, who then put his hand on their heads, saying, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
John Calnan, 79, who is now living at The Presbytery, Roman St, Cork, was given an 18-month fully suspended sentence on five counts of indecent assault at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, earlier this week.
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 at the time.
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. It happened in the mid to late 1970s.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin 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.’
But, he added: ‘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 re-offended. Given his age and the level of his rehabilitation, I see no point or purpose in imprisoning him at this stage. I will impose a sentence of 18 months suspended.’
Defence barrister John Devlin said the accused had very poor health.
Detective Garda Shanley said that the victims thought at the time that what he was doing to them at the time was part of the Confession.
He 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.
A victim impact statement read by Det Garda Shanley 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.’
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 would not be identified.
After the case, Bishop John Buckley issued the following statement: ‘It is a cause of great shame, regret and sadness that a priest should betray the trust placed in him. I am concerned for those who have suffered, directly and indirectly, in these cases. My sympathy goes out to them. I pray that all will continue on the road to healing.’
Towards Healing is operating a confidential helpline for anyone who may have concerns of this kind, at 1800-331234.