Saturday, February 02, 2013

Fury as priest guilty of abusing choirgirl aged 16 walks free victims of clerical abuse have called for a public inquiry into clerical abuse to be expedited after a priest walked free from court despite being convicted of sexually abusing a teenage girl.

Terrence Rafferty, the former adminstrator of Newry Cathedral and parish priest of Donaghmore, Co Down, escaped a custodial sentence at Craigavon Crown Court on Thursday.

The 50-year-old, with an address at Chestnut Grove in Newry, was sentenced to 100 hours’ community service having previously pleaded guilty to four counts of indecent assault.

The priest was also given a three-year probation order and banned from working with children or vulnerable adults for 10 years.

The assaults were carried out on the victim, a 16-year-old-girl, over several months in 2001.

At the time Rafferty was aged 38 and a priest at St Peter's Parish in Lurgan.

He said the two were in a relationship from 2001 until 2007. The court was told the convictions for indecent assault were in relation to Rafferty’s admission he “engaged in passionate kisses with her and heavy fondling”.

He denied the relationship became more sexual prior to the girl turning 17, the then legal age of consent.

The two first came into contact through a choir which he was responsible for.

The court was told what started as a friendship developed into a relationship.

A prosecutor told judge Gemma Loughran there were two aggravating factors in the case — the age difference between the two, and the breach of trust on Rafferty’s part.
“He was a teacher and a priest,” he said. “The breach of trust between them was clear.” 
Rafferty initially denied all the charges against him but pleaded guilty to four on the day his trial was due to begin. 

A defence barrister presented Judge Loughran with character references from clergy members and prominent figures in the community Rafferty served.

He said his client had been under intense pressure and strain during the period the indecent assaults took place.

He claimed this was due to the trauma the priest had endured as a result of his experiences during the Troubles in the 1990s. The barrister said “as part of his (Rafferty’s) vocation as a priest in the Mid Ulster area... he had to deal with some harrowing and troubling things”.

He said these included visiting murder scenes and receiving threats.

A report carried out on Rafferty’s mental health recorded him to be “brittle and vulnerable” at the time of the offences, the court was told.

Rafferty was deemed to provide a low-risk of reoffending.

Judge Loughran described Rafferty’s actions as “deplorable”.

But she said, while not bound by Court of Appeal guidelines regarding sentencing for such offences, she did have to take them into consideration.

“Seventeen was the age of consent at that time,” she told Rafferty. “You were forbidden by law from engaging in that type of activity. That’s the end of the story. Your actions over the period of six months were in breach of trust.” 
Having avoided a custodial sentence, Rafferty walked from the courtroom where he was confronted by clerical abuse victims.

Outside the court, victims’ rights campaigners called for a Government inquiry into clerical sex abuse to be hurried up. 

Michael Connolly, a spokesman for the group Clerical Abuse NI, described the sentence handed to Rafferty as “an absolute insult” to victims.

He added: “All of us on this pavement are victims of clerical abuse, we all know what it is to have to live with that. That is the reason why I’m looking for a clerical abuse inquiry. We need the First and Deputy First Ministers’ office to immediately look at a clerical abuse inquiry and instigate it immediately. Not in one year, two years or three years time, we need that inquiry to begin right now.” 
Margaret McGuckin of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse said: “What is happening will stop people coming forward. For the rest of their lives the victims are left thinking ‘what was the point of going through all that?’” 

Monsignor Aidan Hamill, the vicar general of the diocese, said the matter was now the subject of an internal Church process.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International, said the body backed calls for the inquiry into abuse to be expedited.

‘Shame on you’ woman said as she spat in his face

It was the ultimate betrayal of a sacred trust. 

A prominent priest who, alongside his ministerial duties, gave up his time to take groups of children and young people for music lessons and sport.

But popular parish priest Terrence Rafferty, renowned for his cross-community work in defusing sectarian tensions in Lurgan, lived a double life for years.

Having taken a vow of celibacy, Rafferty was forbidden to engage in any sexual activity.

For six years, however, he was involved in a secret relationship, the initial six months of which led to his convictions for indecent assault.

In 2001 he was 38. He started taking young people for choir lessons. It was during these classes that a 16-year-old girl caught his eye.

He knew her family and they, like the vast majority of other families in his parish, were only too welcoming when he called with them on his rounds.

In court yesterday his barrister argued: “This is not a case of duress or coercion. She voluntarily engaged in this behaviour with the accused.”

She was 22 years younger than the man who was vying for her affections.

The naive teenager — now a woman — told an early court hearing that the attention she received from Rafferty made her “feel special”.

But the court was told yesterday how her subsequent experiences have left her suffering nightmares to the present day.

In April 2011 an allegation was made against Rafferty.

Around 30 friends and family — including clergy and prominent business owners — accompanied him to court yesterday.

He blamed the stress of the Troubles for his mental state at the time of the abuse. The judge dismissed this excuse, saying that countless other clergymen had also been affected by the Troubles, but were not driven to engage in “inappropriate sexual activity”.

The victim was not in court yesterday, though family members were present, hoping to see justice served.

The relief was visible on Rafferty’s face when he learnt he would not be going to prison for his crimes — a polar opposite expression of the devastation on the faces of those on the other side of the courtroom.

Some wept moments after the announcement, the despair turning to anger when Rafferty emerged from the courtroom and appeared to smirk at his victim’s relatives while being patted on the back by a friend.

Immediately, one woman raced to confront the fallen priest, spitting in his face.

“Shame on you,” she said.

Outside, Rafferty chose not to face the victims again, or the gathered media.

Instead, he left in the rear of a luxury BMW car. Again, the expression on his face appeared to be one of smugness.

Michael Connolly, a victims’ campaigner who had hoped to challenge Rafferty outside, said: “He should have been leaving court today in a prison van, not a BMW. That sentence today is an insult to clerical abuse victims, an absolute insult.”

Monsignor Hamill, vicar general, Diocese of Dromore, best summed up the vileness of Rafferty’s crimes.

“A betrayal of sacred trust occurred in this case,” he said. “On behalf of the diocese, I want to offer my sincere apologies for the anguish and distress which the complainant and her family have suffered.” 
Had it not been for the bravery of his victim, Rafferty’s crimes would never have come to light.

The details of the case were only released after a court ban protecting the priest's identity was lifted.

The driving force behind that action was the woman who yesterday became the latest victim, campaigners argued, to be ultimately let down by the judicial system.

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