A delegation of people from the village of Carrick have said the placement of shamed cleric Con Cunningham amongst them has left them with a legacy of “official denial.”
The group has spoken out as pressure mounts on the Catholic Church over new allegations against the former Donegal priest.
The priest was placed in the south Donegal village from 2002 and 2018.
However, parishioners were never told of any concerns or allegations against Cunningham.
In later years when suspicious locals approached the Church and Gardai about their concerns, the allegations were denied.
The following is a statement from a leading member of the community in Carrick which outlines Cunningham’s time amongst them and of their concerns which they claim was met with “official denial.”
“In compiling this information I have spoken to quite a number of people over the period 2002 to 2018. Most wish to remain anonymous and that includes myself. But the picture I will outline here is a shocking story
“Fr Con arrived in Carrick in June 2002, or thereabouts. Prior to that the Diocese purchased a house for him at Slieve League Avenue in Carrick Upper. The house is located directly in the middle of three housing estates, namely, ‘the old cottages built in 1954. The Slibh Liag Avenue houses were built in 1975 and the new houses built in 1999. All these houses would of had either children living in them or grandchildren visiting them over the period of Con’s residency there.
“Con’s house is accessed by the Back Lane, which is where Carrick national school is located. Between 2002 to 2013 there were 100 pupils there. Presently there are approximately 80 pupils.
“Fr Con arrived in Carrick and we were told it was on health grounds, apparently he was suffering heart difficulties. No mention was ever made of sexual abuse, but as time evolved stories began to emerge of possible sexual abuse of children, these were denied by the resident priest and by the Gardai.
“Whilst Fr Con, in the early years never said Mass in the Church, he did have a daily Mass in his house and bizarrely on a daily basis approximately 12 to 15 people attended whereas only 6 to 8 people attended daily Mass in the church.
“Our community was dividing in front of our eyes.
“More shocking than that, and much to my own regret now on the occasion of each funeral in Carrick – Fr. Con would be invited to say the final graveside rosary in the cemetery.
“Each Sunday, he would be specifically welcomed to Mass as ‘Fr Con’ by the Parish Priest. This, whilst might seem minor to many, but it was having the effect that there was nothing wrong with Fr Con…. he was just a retired priest.
“This had a massive effect of building confidence in the minds of ordinary parish folk.. there is nothing to any of these stories about Fr Con, sure he is still recognised by the church, etc., etc.
“But, in early 2007 and into 2008 – quite a number of parents got uneasy about Con visiting them in their homes but focusing on the children while there – making himself very friendly with them and then speaking to the same children outside the home.
And there was a frequency of him been seen around the school gate in Carrick at 2.00 pm and 3.00 pm.
“More sinister than that a former professional (now retired) got suspicious with Con always walking along the school road, or other roads which children would be travelling home from school…
“At that time any concerned parent that raised the issue with the priest or Gardaí were told directly there was nothing to be concerned about, no record of any abused existed … nothing…
“And so the situation limped on. We were left in complete darkness.
“In 2009, things were getting out of control… on one occasion a parent found Fr Con in their home alone with an 9 year old child… with sweets, a bar of chocolate as it turned out. They barred him from the house thereafter.
“But, no information was furnished from the authorities. I do know these people sought guidance concerning the danger but nothing was told to them.
“The first break-through came in mid 2009, when through my friendship of a senior officer in the Gardai. When asked by me as a favour to find out the story on Con, this officer came back to me. He clearly told me of the danger of this man, specifically referencing 8 to 16 year old girls…
“I did confront the local clergy at the time, and the local Gardai about the allegations and the risks posed by Fr Con. Again they told me nothing and said they knew nothing, despite me knowing otherwise…
“I know the school authorities were concerned also but again, clergy denied any issues or concerns surrounding him.
“So at this juncture a group of us, watched his every move, and depending on where he went. One or other of us would follow him and warn the parents of the child he was focusing on. We recall having to warn 7 to 8 sets of parents between 2009 to 2012.
“Remembering Carrick is a small community of 400/500 people…. it was dangerous because in a small community we ran the risk of being isolated or exposed … it was an awful situation to be in to be honest.
“The school gate still remained an issue, plus he starting going to under-age girls football matches, again hanging around the dressing room entrance.
“But, as 2012 progressed the strength of knowing and understanding of the dangers became clearer to the majority. Slowly those attending his Masses in his house dwindled. Everyone in the broader community was more vigilant of him. Through hard work and a small select group of us watched him and through our actions protected others from the dangers of Fr Con.
“To this day no one has ever told the people of Carrick of the dangers he posed to children. We have been told the diocese housed him amongst us with not one word of warning.
“In November 2018, we all knew after the court case in Donegal.
“But from June 2002 to November 2018 we were a community left hung out to dry. Only for a few lucky breaks and circumstances of obtaining information through the friendship of a senior Garda (unofficially on his part). Otherwise it’s not known what would of happened in our area.
“Other things that come to mind – he would freely come and go to the church sacristy when altar servers would be present. He was always in the black attire of a priest, whilst not having the white collar across the shirt opening. It was always tucked into the collar of his shirt… still visible, again giving the outward impression of being a priest.
“These are only my initial views and recollections of a most difficult time in our small community’s history. For me personally it has taken a massive toll on my nerves. To be honest, a lot of strain and pressure on my life.”Tags: