March 25, 2003
Priest sentenced to six months for sexual abuse

by Patsy McGarry in The Irish Times

Fr. Vincent Mercer

A 56-year-old priest of the Dominican order and a former headmaster at Newbridge College in Co Kildare was sentenced to six months' imprisonment at Naas District Court yesterday on child sex abuse charges.

Father Vincent Mercer pleaded guilty to four counts of indecent assault on a 13-year-old boy in a dormitory at the school in 1977. The victim, Peter (38), who asked that his surname not be used to protect his family, travelled from New York to pursue the charges.

At the request of Father Mercer's solicitor, Mr Robert Eagar, the court was cleared of all not involved in the case before proceedings began before Judge Murrough Connellan. However, the press was allowed to remain.

Sgt Kevin Lavelle told the court the offences took place in September and October 1977 and involved fondling of the victim's genitals underneath bedclothes. When contacted by gardaí in July 2002 the priest made a full statement admitting the offences, he said.

Dr Patrick Randall, principal clinical psychologist with the Granada Institute in Dublin, which treats child sexual abusers, said the priest had begun treatment there in 1996 following referral from a similar centre at Wolvercote, near Epsom in the UK, where he had been sent in 1995.

He expected Father Mercer would be attending the institute for another year. He had shown significant elements of remorse where his victims were concerned and identified with them when he reflected on his own abuse as a child, Dr Randall said.

Quoting tests applied to the priest he said the risk of his re- offending was at the lower end of the scale in two of the tests, and at medium to high in one other. On the lower scale it had been established that Father Mercer's likelihood of reoffending stood at 16 per cent within six years.

The priest had made "a candid and forthright disclosure" about the abuse, Dr Randall said.

Judge Connellan queried this, noting that in a phone call with the victim in September 2001 Father Mercer had denied abusing any other boys. Dr Randall said the priest would not have felt safe making such an admission to someone he had abused.

The judge noted that, while the offences were first reported to the college authorities in 1977, the first referral of the priest for treament was nearly 20 years later. "Where was the defendant during this time?" he asked.

Mr Eagar said that in 1977 the priest was moved from Newbridge College to a parish in Waterford. From 1982 to 1985 he was in a parish in Tallaght, Co Dublin, and in a Cork parish from 1985 to 1995, when he was withdrawn from ministry.

In November 1995 he was sent to Wolvercote and had been living in Dominican houses since then. He understood gardaí had interviewed two other men who had been abused by the priest but they did not want to press charges.

Father Mercer told the court he publicly acknowledged the immense pain he had caused Peter, his parents and his family. He was deeply sorry for breaching their faith and trust. He "publicly apologised" to them for all they had been through.

Judge Connellan said he had doubts about the priest's remorse, arising from the statement to the court about candid and forthright disclosures in the case.

The breach of trust in duty to parents and children could not be overemphasised, which was why, in the main, he was imposing a custodial sentence of six months.

See the RTE News report on the case.

Posted by Colm at March 25, 2003 03:51 PM
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