A 76-year-old former priest has pleaded guilty to sexually molesting a seven-year-old girl while hearing her first confession in West Cork in 1989. He was sentenced to three years in jail, with the final year suspended, the Irish Times reports.

Sgt Maurice Downey told Cork Circuit Criminal Court that the girl was preparing for her First Holy Communion when priest John Calnan, a native of Rossmore near Clonakilty, was invited to her school to hear first confessions. The confessions were held in a kitchenette area at the end of a school hall instead of the cathedral at Skibbereen due to bad weather that day the court heard.

As Calnan begin hearing the girl’s confession, he put his hands inside her underwear and digitally penetrated her. In a statement made in 2013, the complainant, who is now 34-years-old, told police that Calnan also appeared to be doing something to himself at the same time. Sgt Downey told the court that after the girl’s confession, Calnan rearranged her clothing, gave her absolution and penance and told her she could leave.

Calnan, who has had several previous convictions, pleaded guilty to the accusation after first saying he could not remember it and then denying it happened, when he was first arrested and questioned about the incident three years ago, the Irish Examiner reports.

In 2012, he pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to attempted rape and three counts of indecent assault of a girl and one count of indecent assault of a boy, for which he received eight years in jail. Earlier this year, in February, he pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to one count of indecent assault of a young girl. 

Sgy Downey told the court that Calnan’s jail sentences are due to expire in July 2017 and his earliest possible release date is March 24th, 2016.

Calnan, who had served mainly in parishes in West Cork in the Diocese of Cork and Ross, stepped down from ministry in July 1992 when the first complaint was made against him. He spent a year receiving treatment at the Gracewell Clinic in Birmingham.

In a victim impact statement read on her behalf, the complainant said:

“On the day of the assault and the days following, our home place was full of upset, confusion, and anger at how something of this disgusting nature could take place. This priest, who called to the family home regularly; there was a sense of family pride associated with this. How could he abuse their little girl?

“When brought to the attention of the school, my family were met with denial and a feeling of guilt and shame was inflicted on them. There were thinly veiled warnings about speaking out about such matters and how they would be thought of within the local community. At that point in time the Church was the dominant force and not to be challenged on any matter.

“Two wonderful parents who have huge guilt and remorse for something that was not their fault are two more victims of that awful day. I feel so sick for my parents. I feel a sense of guilt so overwhelming that it has taken over my life to this day.

“I have lost faith in the institute of the Catholic Church and all those who represent that institute. John Calnan has taken this belief I had in the Catholic Church and robbed me and my family of the solace and peace in which we previously had a belief so strong, a belief carried through the generations in my family.

“I strive to control every aspect of my life. I will dive before I fall. At least then I have control, something I did not have on the day of the assault in that small, sweaty kitchenette.”

The Irish Times reports that defense lawyer, Tom Creed SC, said Calnan, who had serious health problems, was deeply remorseful and he pleaded for leniency as he hoped to live long enough to see out whatever sentence was imposed.

Judge David Riordan sentenced Calnan to three years in jail, but suspended the final year, ordering his name be placed on the Sex Offenders’ register.