The Dominican Order failed to report allegations one of its priests sexually abused a teenage girl to the Garda for almost 15 years, with the religious order later apologising for the “11th hour” disclosure.
Internal records show the Dominicans received a report that a priest in the order had allegedly sexually abused a girl he met during a church activity.
The woman reported the alleged abuse to the order a number of years later, in 1995, but the Dominicans did not inform gardaí of the allegation for another 14 years.
The woman had alleged the priest had sexually assaulted her when she was 13 or 14, in what at the time she believed was a consensual relationship but later realised had been inappropriate.
In a September 18th, 2009 letter, Fr Vincent Travers wrote to the Garda to report “a serious allegation of child sexual abuse” had emerged during a review of its files. “This allegation was not reported to the gardaí. In this case, we followed the legal advice given to us at the time,” he wrote.
The correspondence from the order’s then child protection officer, seen by The Irish Times, said the man had later left the priesthood.
“We Dominicans regret this 11th hour report of the allegation ... If we had known then what we know now, I have no doubt that the allegation would have been reported,” Fr Travers said.
Notes taken in 1995 by Fr Michael O’Regan, the Dominican’s then child protection officer, stated the priest would “no longer engage in ministry or liturgy in private or public”, until the allegation was investigated by the order.
A younger sister of the woman who reported the alleged abuse later came forward to allege she had also been sexually assaulted by the priest, when she was about 14 years of age.
Health Service Executive (HSE) social workers and the Garda opened investigations into the alleged abuse after the order notified authorities of the allegation.
During an interview in 2012 as part of the HSE investigation, the former priest appeared to make admissions regarding the two women’s allegations.
A report for HSE social workers said the man “accepts the substance of their complaints and says he will always feel bad about it”. The man “repeated again that he hates the person he was then, and accepts much of what they have said”.
The accused said one of the girls “was at least 14 before he became involved with her”, while the younger sister “would have been older than 14 when he had any improper contact with her”, the report of the interview said.
A solicitor acting for the former priest said any article on the abuse allegations would be “a clear breach of our client’s right to privacy”. The solicitor said the law firm would “have to consider taking legal action should you decide on proceeding with the article”.
A 2016 High Court judgment in a judicial review related to the case stated the assessment had concluded the man “had fully admitted what had transpired” with the two sisters “was wrong and should not have occurred”.
Internal emails from HSE social workers, seen by The Irish Times, also stated the former priest “admitted to sexual relations with a then teenage girl” during the interview.
Despite the admissions the man was assessed as being at the lowest end of the scale of risk from a current child protection perspective.
Following a separate Garda investigation, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided not to prosecute the man.
After the alleged abuse was reported to the Dominicans the priest was referred to the Granada Institute, a since closed treatment centre for alleged child sex abusers.
Dr Patrick Walsh, then director of the institute’s psychological services, wrote to Rev Laurence Collins, Dominican provincial, stating the priest had “clearly been rocked” by the allegations. In a letter from October 23rd, 1995, Dr Walsh noted the priest had “fully co-operated” with therapy and was “re-evaluating” questions about his celibacy and the priesthood.
“His remorse and sorrow about the past is genuine ... I am satisfied that he does not pose a threat to young people,” Dr Walsh wrote.
A spokesman for the Dominicans said the order could not comment on the case, due to data protection requirements.
The Dominicans previously disclosed 97 people had reported being allegedly sexually abused as children by members of the order. In more than a third of cases the alleged abuse occurred in Newbridge College, a boarding school for boys run by the order.