Anger as disgraced Newry priest walks free

February 4, 2013

By Christine Keighery

Victims’ campaigners have angrily condemned the sentence handed down to Fr Terence Rafferty, the Newry priest convicted of indecently assaulting a teenage girl more than a decade ago.

The former administrator of Newry Cathedral avoided prison last week and was instead sentenced to 100 hours community service after pleading guilty to four counts of indecent assault.  Rafferty, of Chestnut Grove, Newry was also given a three year probation order and has been banned from working with children or vulnerable adults for ten years.

The priest was serving as a parish priest at St Peter’s in Lurgan when the abuse took place over a six month period in 2001.  While his defence lawyer argued that his mental health was “brittle and vulnerable” due to dealing with harrowing events during the troubles, prosecutors maintained he had abused his “position of trust” and listed an aggravating factor as the age difference between the priest, who was 38 at the time of the offences, and his victim, who was just 16.

Despite describing his offences as “deplorable,” Judge Gemma Loughran admitted that, in passing sentence, she had to follow guidance put in place by the Court of Appeal.

In the wake of the sentencing, victims’ rights campaigners have called for a Government inquiry into clerical sex abuse to be expedited.

Speaking outside Craigavon Court last week, Michael Connolly of 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 the description of the priest as “vulnerable and brittle” depicted him as the victim while the “real victim” in the case had received “no justice” from the court.

She urged the Stormont Executive to hold an inquiry into the case and sentencing guidelines for sex abusers.

“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?’” she said.

Monsignor Aidan Hamill, the vicar general of the diocese, said the matter was now the subject of an internal church process and said “a betrayal of sacred trust occurred in this case.”

“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 and to give the reassurance that the safeguarding of children and young people is paramount.”