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Parish Priest Blackmailed by Caretaker

Michael Quinn, Irish Independent, 13 January 2006

A PARISH priest was blackmailed by his graveyard caretaker who demanded €800 in cash to pay off a drug baron in Limerick.

The Circuit Court in Waterford was told that the man had been threatened with death by the drug boss.

The caretaker, James Donovan (32), single, of Cathal Brugha Street, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, pleaded guilty to demanding money with menaces from Fr Michael Kennedy outside his church in Dunhill, Co Waterford on May 7, 2003.

His brother, Rossa O'Donovan (29) of King Street, Dungarvan, has pleaded not guilty to the blackmail charge.

The court heard that Fr Kennedy was told that James Donovan would say that he was sexually assaulted by the priest if the money was not handed over.

Barrister Tom Teehan, for the DPP, said the priest flatly refused to hand over the money and was very annoyed. He told the men he had to go to an appointment.

He contacted the gardai and when the brothers returned to the parochial house in the afternoon plainclothes detectives were waiting for them.

The men fled in a green Rover car and were followed by gardai. During a high-speed chase they clocked up speeds of 110mph over 28 miles of country roads. Eventually the car crashed and the men were arrested.

During the chase Rossa O'Donovan rang the priest on his mobile phone and said: "You are dead."

He claimed to have friends in the IRA and the drug business and that the police and Drug Squad would be unable to protect him. Mr Teehan said that in the past Fr Kennedy had given James Donovan money and a job.

In evidence Fr Kennedy said he first came in contact with James Donovan, who was very distressed after losing his brother in a drowning accident.

The priest said he gave him €200 when he falsely claimed his mother had died but two weeks later he was shocked to discover that she was still alive. After that he could not find it in his heart to have anything more to do with him.

Fr Kennedy said: "Nasty threats were made by James Donovan who called him a pervert and a child abuser."

The allegations were reported to the Bishop of the Dioceses.

In evidence Rossa O'Donovan said he believed his brother sold ecstasy tablets to the priest and they called to get payment. He denied demanding money by menace or blackmail.