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Retired Priest Acquitted of Indecent Assault 30 Years Ago

Judge Tells Jury to Return Not Guilty Verdict

The Corkman, 19 May 2011

Fr Dan Duane

Retired priest Fr Dan Duane who was acquitted this week of charges of indecently assaulting a teenage girl around 30 years ago

A SEVENTY three year old retired priest from North Cork has been acquitted of indecently assaulting a teenage girl around 30 years ago after the trial judge this week directed the jury to find him not guilty of the offence.

Fr Dan Duane with an address at the Presbytery, Cecilstown, Mallow, had denied a single charge that he had indecently assaulted the teenager at Bellevue, Mallow on a date unknown between September 1 1980 and April 1 1982.

The complainant in the case, a woman 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.

However Fr Duane had denied that any such incident 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.

On Tuesday, Judge Sean O'Donnabhain 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 O'Donnabhain explained his decision in further detail to prosecution and defence teams, saying that he had a number of doubts, some of them major and some of them minor, regarding the evidence tendered by the prosecution.

The complainant had told the court that she had first reported the matter to gardai in August 2010 and Judge O'Donnabhain questioned what had triggered the complaint then and said that he found her delay in reporting the matter — almost 30 years — inexplicable.

Prosecution barrister, Don McCarthy BL said Ireland 30 years ago was not like Ireland today as, back then, it would have been difficult for someone, particularly living in a rural area, to come forward and make a complaint against a priest as priests were held in such high regard.

Judge O'Donnabhain disagreed that Irish society did not change until recently. "I don't agree that a backward type of society existed for antyhing like as long as you think. The outing of complaints against clergy had been standard for many years past," he said.

He also noted that had the woman made the complaint earlier, it would have been possible to obtain statements from a now deceased housekeeper and another priest who was living in the house at the time.

Mr McCarthy BL said that he didn't 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 didn't see what anyone else living in the house at the time could say regarding the incident.

Judge O'Donnabhain said he also found her delay surprising given 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 — sometime between September 1 1980 and April 1 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," he said.

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

Judge O'Donnabhain said the statement obtained by gardai from the former teacher, a nun, didn't 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.

Just after Judge O'Donnabhain directed the jury to acquit Fr Duane, a woman in the public gallery challenged him that the extra study periods happened outside of Intermediate Certificate years and Judge O'Donnabhain ordered her to be arrested and taken into custody.

He later told the woman that the jury was still coming out of the courtroom at the time of her interruption and he had a duty to allow juries go about their business without interruption or disturbance but the matter was now over and he ordered that she be released.