Newry priestís seven year relationship with choir girl
Tuesday, 5 February 2013
A NEWRY priest convicted of indecently assaulting a teenager had been in a seven-year relationship with her.
The revelation came during Fr Terry Rafferty's sentencing at Craigavon Crown Court on Thursday.
As the former Administrator of Newry Cathedral left the courtroom after receiving three years' probation and 100 hours of community service he was spat at and branded 'scum'.
The attack outside the courtroom came from a woman unconnected to the case who then spat on a second priest, Canon John Kearney.
Fr Rafferty was suspended from his duties in May 2011 after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against him.
In court it emerged that the former Donaghmore parish priest's conviction relates to the first six months of a relationship with the complainant, which began when she was 16 and he was 38.
It was stressed in court that, while Fr Rafferty had pleaded guilty to four counts of indecent assault, his plea was made on the basis that, when the relationship began, the complainant was below the then age of consent, which was, at that time, 17. During the period in question - June 2001 until January 2002 - the pair engaged in consensual "passionate kissing" and touching over clothes. The court was told that the relationship continued after the complainant's 16th birthday, lasting until 2007.
The court heard how the relationship had developed from a friendship that had started through the priest's work with Harmony Cross Community Choir.
It was told that physical contact between the pair began during a trip to Canada and that the complainant told police the priest made her feel "very special", was "a lot of fun" and that people liked being around him.
The court heard about his friendship with her family and that he would often call to the family home, on one occasion bringing her a coat as a present. This, Justice Gemma Loughran said when sentencing, was an abuse of the family's trust and of Fr Rafferty's position as a priest and "quasi-teacher".
Lambasting the 50-year-old as he stood in the dock, Judge Loughran said she would not be taking into consideration the 2008 lowering of the legal age of consent to 16.
“She was below the age of consent. End of story," she said, adding that the age difference involved also represented an abuse of trust. The judge also outlined aspects of the Victim Impact Report, which concluded that the girl is now suffering 'chronic adjustment disorder'.
"She had, and continues to have, disturbed dreams," the judge said "and finds it difficult to conduct an honest relationship due to the years of secrecy during her relationship with you".
Noting "extremely positive" character references from members of the community and the psychiatric report's conclusion that Fr Rafferty's mental health is "brittle and vulnerable", the judge also took account of a probation report's observation of his "deep remorse and regret".
Telling the court that she must follow sentencing guidelines as set by the Court of Appeal, the judge said they "do not permit me to do anything other than impose a non-custodial sentence".
As well as probation and community service, she ordered that Fr Rafferty, who has stepped down from his role as parish priest but remains within the priesthood, be subject to a 10-year Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO).
The vicar general of the diocese meanwhile, said the matter is now the subject of an internal church process.
“A betrayal of sacred trust occurred in this case," Monsignor Aidan Hamill said.
“On behalf of the diocese, I want to offer my sincere apologies for the anguish and distress which the complainant and her family have suffered and to give the reassurance that the safeguarding of children and young people is paramount."
Send to a friend
Please complete the following form to inform a friend about this page.