Court Increases Priest’s Prison Sentence
The Court of Criminal Appeal has ruled that a suspended sentence imposed on a former spiritual director of a Co Meath school for indecently assaulting young boys did not adequately recognise the seriousness of the offences or the consequences for the victims.
72-year-old Franciscan priest, Ronald Bennett was a spiritual director and games master at Gormanston College in Co Meath. He was given a five year suspended sentence by the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in July last year for six sample charges of indecently assaulting four young boys between 1973 and 1981.
But the Court of Criminal Appeal ruled this afternoon that Fr Bennett must serve two and a half years of that sentence in prison. The court ruled that far too much weight was given by the trial judge, Desmond Hogan, to mitigating factors relating to Fr Bennett personally.
The presiding judge, Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan said he believed a custodial sentence of two and a half years with a further two and a half years suspended adequately reflected the serious breach of trust that had taken place and the serious consequences of the priest’s actions.
Speaking afterwards, one of Fr Bennett’s victims said he was ‘so relieved’ he had been given a custodial sentence. Mr Justice Finnegan said the victim impact reports showed Fr Bennett’s actions had almost catastrophic consequences. He said they had had most serious effects on the victims and those effects continued.
The Circuit Criminal Court heard Fr Bennett summoned pupils to his office on the pretext of giving them sex education but instead he abused them.
One victim dropped out of sports trying to avoid the priest. Another boy told how he was given sweets after being abused and told not to tell anyone.