March 2010

Priest gets suspended sexual assault sentence

The former spiritual director of Gormanston College has been given a two and a half year suspended prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to a charge of sexually assaulting a young boy.

Fr Ronald Bennett had already been convicted for assaulting other boys while he was in the Co Meath college.

The 75-year-old Franciscan friar had pleaded guilty to two sample charges of indecently assaulting a teenage boy in the early 1970s.

Trim Circuit Criminal Court had been told that Bennett would summon his victim to his room every week for two years.

He would ask the boy if he knew how to seduce a woman before removing his trousers and abusing him.

Fr Bennett, who has an address at a Franciscan house in Killiney, Co Dublin, has already served a prison term for abusing four boys in the same school.

The victim, who cannot be named to protect his identity, told the court that the Franciscans were aware of the abuse for years but did nothing to stop it.

Counsel for the accused, Hugh Hartnett, said his client was now subject to extremely restrictive measures by the Franciscan Order, which in effect amounted to imprisonment in their house.

Judge Donagh McDonagh said Fr Bennett had abused his position of trust as the spiritual director and a sporting coach in the school.

Usually this matter would have been dealt with during the previous case when Fr Bennett received a five year sentence, half of which was suspended.

He also said he was acutely aware of the severe restrictions placed on the defendant by his religious order.

Judge McDonagh imposed a two and a half year sentence, suspended on condition that the accused abides by the restrictions imposed by the Franciscans.

He also placed him on the register of sex offenders for ten years.