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Abusive priest left sex trail in Ireland


The Times-Union


The Times-Union

The visiting Irish priest blamed for abusing at least three children in Jacksonville in the late 1960s eventually returned to Ireland where he sexually assaulted more children the following two decades, a Catholic bishop in Ireland told The Florida Times-Union.

The Rev. Thomas McNamara was identified this week by the Diocese of St. Augustine as the priest accused of "inappropriately touching" three youths during his service here from 1966 to 1968. McNamara was the same person who perpetrated similar assaults on "a number of victims," all of them teen-age boys, in Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s, Bishop Willie Walsh of the Diocese of Killaloe in Ennis, Ireland, said in a telephone interview Friday.   Walsh said McNamara died at age 77 in 1997.

Experts in clergy sex abuse say the Jacksonville report is one of an increasing number of international cases in which predatory priests moved not only from parish to parish and diocese to diocese, but also nation to nation -- only to return home seeking legal refuge and, often, more victims.

A spokeswoman for the Jacksonville-based Diocese of St. Augustine, which represents 162,000 Catholics in Duval and 16 other North Florida counties, said there is no indication diocesan officials at the time knew of the abuse allegations or knowingly returned the priest to an unsuspecting Irish church. "We have no reason to believe that is what took place," said the spokeswoman, Kathleen Bagg-Morgan.

Walsh said he is aware of no accusations against McNamara before his stint in Florida but that he was notified by the St. Augustine diocese last summer of the Jacksonville cases.

The first cases in Ireland date back to "an earlier period in the 1970s." The latest documented case against McNamara occurred in the early 1980s, Walsh said.

McNamara served in six parishes in the Killaloe diocese during those two decades before being removed from active ministry in 1993 -- before Walsh became bishop.   "My understanding is that he was withdrawn from ministry because of this matter," Walsh said.

Colm O'Gorman, director of One in Four, an abuse survivors network in Ireland, said by telephone that McNamara was not exposed until after his death and was therefore never charged or prosecuted.

O'Gorman, 38, and himself sexually abused as a child by a Catholic priest, said the McNamara case has gained notoriety in Ireland recently because one of the priest's possible victims grew up to murder three people and later committed suicide in a psychiatric ward.   The blame for the murders cannot be laid completely at McNamara's feet, O'Gorman said, "but there's got to be a link."

The Diocese of St. Augustine became aware of the allegations against McNamara only this past summer when three victims, now adults and none living on the First Coast, came forward with their accounts, Bagg-Morgan said.

McNamara served as a visiting priest at Christ the King and St. Patrick parishes in Jacksonville, Bagg-Morgan said. Messages left for clergy at those parishes on Friday were not returned.

McNamara's first assignment was to St. Patrick, whose pastor was the now-retired Monsignor John Lenihan, Bagg-Morgan said. When Lenihan was transferred to Christ the King, McNamara accompanied him, then returned to Ireland a few months later, she said.

The Times-Union was unable to locate Lenihan, who Bagg-Morgan said splits his time between Ireland and the St. Augustine area, for comment.

The St. Augustine diocese has declined to say if McNamara was accused of committing his abuses against boys or girls, or if the incidents took place on or off church property. Bagg-Morgan said only that the victims were adolescents at the time and that they met with Bishop Victor Galeone during the summer.   Galeone believed their accounts, Bagg-Morgan said.

O'Gorman was surprised to hear that McNamara has been implicated in child sexual abuse in the United States.   "Oh, wow," he said when informed.   "We certainly were not aware that Tom McNamara had spent time in the United States and that there had been complaints against him there," O'Gorman said.

Not surprising, he said, is to hear about an Irish priest accused of predatory behavior against children overseas.   "There are a number of those cases" and O'Gorman said he is being contacted more and more by American attorneys seeking to interview priests in Ireland.

David Clohessy, executive director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said he's seeing the same trend on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.   "I think that's the next wave of this crisis," Clohessy said about the mounting evidence that abusive priests were moved from continent to continent to "eventually return to their home towns or dioceses."

In June, Walsh, whose mostly rural diocese represents 120,000 Catholics in 59 parishes in western Ireland, publicly apologized to the parishes where McNamara served and to his victims.   The Diocese of St. Augustine is aware of another decades-old abuse case that occurred in the diocese, but Bagg-Morgan said it will not be publicly discussed until it is fully investigated.

 
 

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