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Priest Not Guilty of Indecent Assault

Irish Times, May 18, 2011 by Barry Roche, Southern Correspondent

A RETIRED priest in the diocese of Cloyne has been acquitted of indecently assaulting a teenage girl about 30 years ago after the trial judge directed the jury to find him not guilty of the offence.

Fr Dan Duane (73), the Presbytery, Cecilstown, Mallow, Co Cork, had denied a single charge at Cork Circuit Criminal Court that he had indecently assaulted the girl at Bellevue, Mallow, between September 1st, 1980, and April 1st, 1982.

The complainant, a woman now in her mid-40s, had alleged that Fr Duane had kissed her and fondled her breasts when she visited him as a teenager to discuss a family problem after meeting him on a school retreat almost 30 years ago.

“My initial reaction was just absolute shock, then a slight freeze and then I told him to ‘f*** off’ and I just went towards the door,” she said.

Fr Duane denied that any such incident had ever happened and denied that he had ever conducted retreats at the girl’s school, as he was a full-time career guidance teacher at St Colman’s College in Fermoy between 1973 and 1986.

Yesterday Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin instructed the jury of seven men and five women to find Fr Duane not guilty, saying he believed that was the correct decision, having reviewed the totality of the evidence and the legal authorities on the matter.

Earlier, in the absence of the jury, Judge Ó Donnabháin explained his decision in further detail to prosecution and defence teams.

The complainant had told the court that she had first reported the matter to gardaí in August 2010. Judge Ó Donnabháin questioned what had triggered the complaint then and said that he found her delay in reporting the matter – almost 30 years – inexplicable.

Don McCarthy, prosecuting, said Ireland 30 years ago was not like Ireland today. Judge Ó Donnabháin said he accepted that, but “the outing of complaints against clergy had been standard for many years past” and that did not explain such a lengthy delay.

He said that had the woman made the complaint earlier, it would have been possible to obtain statements from a housekeeper, who had since died, and another priest who was living with Fr Duane at the time.

Mr McCarthy said he did not believe that was relevant as the woman had been adamant that it was simply Fr Duane that she met at the house on the day in question and he did not see what anyone else living in the house at the time could say regarding the incident.

Judge Ó Donnabháin said he found her delay surprising given that she worked in a profession where victims of child abuse were encouraged to make complaints and where she would have known that once a complaint was made, it would have been treated seriously.

He also had concern about the woman’s testimony when she said that the incident happened when she was supposed to be staying on after school for extra study classes and he believed that could only have happened in her Intermediate Certificate year before the exam.

He believed that the prosecution had set out too broadly the period when it alleged that the offence occurred some time between September 1st, 1980, and April 1st, 1982, as it could only have happened when the woman was doing her Inter Cert in the academic year 1981-1982.

He questioned how he could charge the jury properly when he stacked up all these concerns. “If the jury came back with a verdict of guilty, I would have the profoundest worry about the efficacy of that finding and for that reason, I intend to direct the jury to find him not guilty.”

Earlier, also in the absence of the jury, Judge Ó Donnabháin refused an application by the prosecution to hear evidence from a former teacher at the school where the girl attended which the State said would rebut evidence from Fr Duane that he never gave retreats there.

Judge Ó Donnabháin said the statement obtained by gardaí from the former teacher, a nun, did not specify whether Fr Duane gave retreats there when she was a teacher between 1966 and 1986 or when she returned after 1986 as principal and was too imprecise to allow in evidence.