A former priest in Co. Cork has received a prison sentence of four years for paying three men $4,500 to threaten his nephew.
Fr. Francis Kelleher, 59, worked as a hospital chaplain. In May 2012 his nephew Niall Kelleher brought a civil action against him.
As the Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard from Det Garda Micheal O'Regan, Fr. Kelleher vented his frustrations regarding the action to an unnamed man who would sometimes bring a religious relic to patients in the hospital.
Shortly thereafter, Niall Kelleher, a 43-year-old husband and father with three young children, began receiving threats from three men claiming to be with the Continuity IRA.
On June 27, the Irish Times reports, three men arrived at Kelleher’s home, where they spoke with his 13-year-old son. They then went to his place of work and threatened him, saying, “We’re from the Continuity IRA – withdraw the statement against the priest and drop the case or you won’t see the following week.”
On July 6, he received a call with the message, “Drop the case and stop making up lies about Francis, it’s all about money, drop the case or die.” In later calls the men told him, “This is your last chance” and “you blew it.”
The intimidation tactics stopped for a number of months, until January 8, 2013, when Niall received yet another call saying, “You’re a nice guy, Niall but I’ve been paid a lot of money to take care of you in relation to your statement.”
At this point, the local police force was also taking the threats very seriously. Kelleher increased security at his family’s home, which was also under police watch.
In his Victim Impact Statement, Kelleher recalled the terror these threats instilled in him and his family. He said that every morning he had to check under his car before going to work and that he was in constant fear he was being followed.
Father Francis Kelleher was arrested on November 25, 2013 and later admitted that he had paid $4,500 (€4,000) in order to have his nephew intimidated.
He is still a member of the priesthood, but no longer ministering.
In trial at the Cork Circuit Criminal Court, he pleaded guilty to four counts of coercion against his nephew.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabhain sentenced him to four years in prison, saying “I have to take a stand against fellows who get cowards to go out on the streets and threaten people.”