Friday, March 19, 2010

'Retract your statement or I'll rape you again'

'SARAH' was 17 and having problems at home and school when her parents suggested she might speak to the new young priest who was making waves with the school children in their Armagh diocese.

It was close to Christmas 1997 when Sarah confided in Fr X, who put her at ease by asking her to relax and offering to massage her shoulders as he soothed her teenage angst.

Sarah left the meeting confused by his conduct but returned to speak with him again, this time with near- fatal consequences.

During their second meeting, Fr X masturbated in front of her and asked her to do the same.

The teen fled the parochial house and tried to kill herself, ending up in a psychiatric hospital.

But several months later in the early part of 1998 she plucked up the courage to tell her school principal.

On the day she confided about the abuse, she returned home to emergency accommodation she was now staying in following her admission to hospital.

She thought she had done the right thing and fell asleep only to find Fr X in her room at the emergency shelter -- he had inveigled his way into her bedroom by using the respect afforded to his priestly garb.

Initially he cried and begged her to withdraw her statement to the school principal, but she said that she could not, prompting an angry outburst from Fr X who said: "If this [complaint] is to finish it, then there is one thing I've got to do before I go."

With those words, he raped the troubled teen and leaving her bedroom he warned her: "You can expect a lot more of that [rape] if you don't retract your statement".

Gripped with fear, Sarah withdrew the statement, causing even more problems with her school principal and her parents who thought she had made a malicious allegation.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Sarah said: "He had me convinced that nobody would believe me".

Sarah fled the North and moved to the south-west of Ireland to recover from her ordeal and to escape Fr X's clutches.

In 2002, she travelled back to the North and told her parents and the PSNI about her abuse.

She received huge support from her family and the police and was devastated when the DPP directed that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the cleric.

The matter did not end there, however, and Sarah began a civil action against Fr X in 2003.

She also sued Cardinal Sean Brady on the basis he was ultimately responsible for Fr X as Archbishop of Armagh, the diocese where the priest worked.

Sarah did not want to settle her case and wanted it to go to a full hearing at the High Court in Belfast, but said she could not compete financially with Fr X whom, she said, was receiving legal aid for his case.

She finally settled at the start of 2010.

One of the main stumbling blocks to the settlement, which was concluded without any admission of liability, was a clause insisting on confidentiality.

Sarah's lawyers tried to have the secrecy clause removed and her father even went to see Cardinal Brady personally seeking its removal.

"I never wanted to be gagged and my dad tried to make sure I couldn't," said Sarah.

"I still have nightmares, but I tell it now like it is somebody else's story."

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