A woman who alleges she was sexually abused at the age of 14 by a local priest was told her real motivation for taking the case to Wicklow Circuit Court yesterday was a dispute over land between her family and the priest, Father Chris Conroy, writes Tim O'Brien in Wicklow.
Father Conroy (72), a Carmelite and retired Peruvian missionary, faces two charges of sexual assault contrary to section 2 of the Criminal Law Rape Amendment Act 1990. These are alleged to have taken place in the Glen of the Downs and the priest's home, both in Co Wicklow, between May and September 2000.
Responding to Mr Paul Murray SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, the woman, now 18, said she had formed a habit of visiting the priest in his home from the time she turned 11 and was in junior school.
She told Judge Pat McCartan she believed the priest had been grooming her for sexual abuse. The witness said the priest had taken her to get her ears pierced when this was not permitted by her parents and that he had also bought her a bikini, "short shorts", knee-length boots and a "boob tube". He had given the witness's brother a watch.
The court heard the relationship between the schoolgirl and the priest was one in which matters of a sexual nature were frequently raised.
After a shopping trip to Dún Laoghaire in June 2000 she claims he assaulted her in his car as they travelled home.
The court was also told the priest had inappropriately given a massage to the woman, touching her skin in the conservatory of his home.
The woman gave evidence that after this incident she had become sick and depressed and told her mother and later her father. Her parents had taken her to a sexual assault unit and informed the Garda.
But counsel for Father Conroy, Mr Richard N. Kean SC, alleged the "real reason" the case was in court was because of a land dispute with the priest.
Responding to Mr Kean, the witness agreed she had told her mother in June 2000 but they had not told her father until May 2001 and a complaint was not made to the Garda until August 2002. During this time, Mr Kean suggested there had been a "vicious dispute" between the family and the priest over land.
Mr Kean further suggested that the first time her father spoke to the priest was when the two men and the victim's brother had met in January 2002 to discuss the land issues - a meeting at which the alleged abuse had apparently not been raised.
Mr Kean said the family lost High Court proceedings over the land in July 2002 and within two days the witness's father had sought to raise the abuse.
Mr Kean put it to the witness that the first time her father had thought it was necessary for her to be seen by a counsellor was the day after the family had lost the High Court case over land.