FORMER Lurgan priest Fr Terence Rafferty was driven from Craigavon Court via a side entrance last Thursday after he was handed a community service punishment for sex offence charges.
Fr Rafferty, who was a curate in St Peter’s Parish, was told by the judge that he had abused the position of trust he had enjoyed as a priest.
The 50-year-old priest, who had pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 100 hours community service and three years’ probation for indecent assault on an underage girl.
Victims’ groups branded the punishment as disgraceful.
Rafferty, who was 38 years old at the time, abused the girl while she was below the age of consent. The indecent assaults occurred over a six-month period in 2001.
The former Administrator of Newry Cathedral pleaded guilty to four specimen charges of indecent assault and five further charges were left on the books.
Judge Gemma Loughran described Rafferty’s crimes as ‘deplorable’ and a ‘breach of trust’.
The court heard Rafferty, who until recently was also parish priest at Donaghmore, claimed to have been in a relationship with the girl who was just 16 years old when the offences were committed.
The pair met when the priest was on a trip to Canada with a choir made up of students from two Portadown schools in 2000.
Rafferty pleaded guilty to four specimen charges which related to various acts from kissing the underage girl to touching her buttocks and breasts.
His defence lawyer pointed to a psychiatric report claiming the priest had dealt with harrowing situations during the Troubles including murder scenes and this had affected him at the time. He was described as ‘brittle and vulnerable’.
However Judge Loughran dismissed this, adding that many Catholic priests had to deal with dreadful events during the Troubles but had not engaged in ‘inappropriate activity’.
In delivering the sentence, the judge said she must follow the guidelines of the Courts of Appeal and sentenced Rafferty to a three-year probation order as well as 100 hours community service.
Fr Rafferty has been banned from working with children or vulnerable adults for 10 years.
The judge told him he had abused the position of trust he had enjoyed as a priest. She said: “It’s a deplorable crime, all too prevalent in our society.”
After the sentencing, Rafferty left the courtroom flanked by more than 20 family, friends and supporters.
Three women from SAVIA (Survivors And Victims of Institutional Abuse) and Michael Connolly from Campaign for a Northern Ireland Clerical Abuse were outside the court house with several members of the media.
However, journalist and photographers looked on as Rafferty’s brother, Ciaran drove the priest from the court via a side gate rather than the main entrance.
A spokesperson for the Court Service said Rafferty’s legal representatives requested an alternative route from the building.
A statement said: “An approach was made to the Court Administrators for Craigavon Court by the legal representatives for Terence Rafferty on January 31 in respect of his egress from the court building at Craigavon after his sentencing. A decision was made to allow Mr Rafferty to leave the building by a secure exit to avoid any potential for public disorder, and to protect the health and safety of all court users. He was at all times escorted by court security.”