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Shamed Catholic priest Joseph Dunne finally jailed for sexual abuse after appeal, but former church adviser questions why getting justice took so long

Defrocked Catholic priest Joseph Dunne is confronted at his home in County Offaly, Ireland.
Defrocked Catholic priest Joseph Dunne is confronted at his home in County Offaly, Ireland.

A Catholic priest who preyed on girls and vulnerable young women for decades has finally been jailed after his international web of abuse and deceit was exposed by The Sunday Post.

Father Joseph Dunne sexually assaulted and harassed a string of young women and girls in Glasgow, Los Angeles and Ireland during the 1980s – but church authorities repeatedly failed to stop him.

Earlier this year he was convicted of sexually assaulting a young woman in Ireland, but received just a four-year suspended sentence. Last week Dunne, 82, was finally jailed for two years after Ireland’s Court of Appeal overturned the earlier sentence.

Dunne’s abuse went unchecked because, despite numerous victims and their families complaining about him to church authorities, he was simply allowed to move to new parishes. And it was only when Dunne, known in his hometown in County Offaly, Ireland, as “Father Joe” was tracked down and exposed by The Sunday Post, in January 2019, that police there finally acted to prosecute him for sexually abusing a rape victim.

Following our expose, police found letters to Dunne’s Bishop in Ireland detailing a series of violent sexual attacks on one extremely vulnerable victim which began while he was taking her to a rape centre for counselling.

Joseph Dunne’s victims

Last night Alan Draper, the former church adviser who has supported thousands of Scotland’s survivors of historical abuse, said: “At long last Dunne is where he should be, behind bars. Without being exposed by The Sunday Post, it is doubtful Dunne would ever have been prosecuted at all.

“I hope that news of his incarceration will give some measure of comfort to those affected by his despicable behaviour over many years. There still remains a number of questions over how this man was able to continue operating as a priest, moving around from country to country, parish to parish, despite the serious accusations being made against him over a period of many years.”

Draper, a former director of social work who was called in by the Catholic church to advise them on how to handle accusations of sexual abuse, had written repeatedly to bishops in three of the dioceses where Dunne operated.

He said: “I believe the church still has those questions to answer, particularly over how this was ever allowed to happen and continue happening for so many years? If the correct action had been taken the first-time accusations were made, it is quite likely that other alleged victims would have been spared. Accountability must be addressed.”

Joseph Dunne, circled, after being ordained by the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Most rev Dr Michael Russell.
Joseph Dunne, circled, after being ordained by the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Most rev Dr Michael Russell.

Dunne was sacked by the Archdiocese of Glasgow in 1988 after complaints about his behaviour by two schoolgirls. He moved to Los Angeles and established himself at two new churches, where he was later accused of inappropriate behaviour by two young parishioners. Dunne worked at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Santa Clarita when he insisted on playing games of “tickle in the dark” when she was just 12 years old.

One of those girls, Amanda Bare, told The Sunday Post: “I vividly remember his favourite game was chase and tickle and he kept wanting to play it in the dark.”

Dunne was eventually banned from the family’s home when her mother witnessed his behaviour, and she reported him to the local bishop for attempting to “groom” her daughter. Dunne was questioned by police, but no prosecution went ahead. Amanda said: “It’s been a dark shadow hanging over me. Because of it I’ve experienced serious trust issues. It’s hung over relationships, my work and career. It’s always there.”

St Bartholomew’s, where Joseph Dunne worked. © DCT Media
St Bartholomew’s, where Joseph Dunne worked.

After leaving Glasgow, and before moving to LA, Dunne returned home to Co Offaly. It was then, in 1989, that Dunne befriended a young woman who was a patient in a hospital he visited, where she was recovering from being abused by another person. She was due to attend counselling, which was difficult for her to access due to her rural location, and Dunne offered to drive her to the Rape Crisis Centre.

During several of those trips, Dunne indecently assaulted her. After a number of assaults, the woman avoided Dunne, but forgave him after he apologised. He then assaulted her again. Dunne left for the US, but after his return, she saw that he was being allowed to stand in at funerals and masses. At that point she wrote to her local bishop but heard no more until Irish police launched an investigation into Dunne in 2019 – at which point her letters were found.

Impact of abuse

In a statement to the court, she outlined the devastating effects his abuse has had on her life in relation to relationships, her mental health and employment. She said she feels she will grow old on her own as she can not trust anyone.

At the Court of Appeal in Dublin on Monday, Mr Justice John Edwards said the “violence” of the sexual offences were “terrifying” for the woman, had long-lasting effects on her and merited a custodial sentence.

The judge said Dunne’s subsequent “purported apology” to the victim for his behaviour towards her before abusing her again amounted to “weasel words”.

“He exploited his chaplaincy role to secure an opportunity to abuse his victim. This was not one-off offending either,” he added.

In re-sentencing Dunne, Mr Justice Edwards said a headline sentence of six years was appropriate and discounted two years to reflect the guilty pleas and Dunne’s personal circumstances.

In taking Dunne’s care for his elderly sister into account, Mr Justice Edwards said he would suspend a further two years of the sentence for two years, leaving him with a two-year jail term to be served. The Sunday Post confronted Dunne at his home in Ireland in 2019, when he said: “I’ve done nothing wrong. My conscience is clear.” Earlier this year he again refused to speak to reporters.

The Archdiocese of Glasgow said: “We welcome the decision of the judges in Dublin to send Joseph Dunne to prison for his despicable crimes and hope that this will give some comfort to the victim of his abuse.

“Over recent years the Archdiocese has sought to offer what support it can to the woman who has had the courage to come forward and make known Joseph Dunne’s offences. Sadly, while we acknowledge her pain and suffering and offer our deepest apology, we know that the harm she has suffered cannot be undone.

“Throughout this case the Archdiocese has cooperated with the police in Scotland and in Ireland. We are determined to root out any form of abuse and repeat our apology to all those affected by this or other such cases.

“Canonical proceedings against Joseph Dunne had to await the conclusion of these proceedings in the Irish courts. Now that the Court of Appeal has reached a final decision we will report back to Rome.

“Anyone who is affected by this or who has any concerns about safeguarding should contact the Archdiocese or the police.”

How we tracked him down

A single word, Scotland, tucked away in a sea of thousands of words and places, sealed the fate of vile predator Father Joseph Dunne. But for that word, the manipulative priest would never have been brought to justice.

He had already remained free for four decades, preying on girls and young women in three countries despite allegations against him in Scotland dating back to 1988. But the police were never told at that time, allowing his reign of terror to only end last week when he was jailed after a five-year Sunday Post campaign to bring justice to victims.

Dunne first came to our attention in 2018 when his name was published by the Diocese of Los Angeles, almost hidden away amongst the list of hundreds of other priests accused of historical sexual abuse.

With no other clues to his background, it took a deep search of old Catholic Directories at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library, to find records detailing how Dunne was moved around five city parishes after being ordained at Waterford Cathedral in 1975. He first served as a priest at St James’s Crookston, moving to St Lawrence’s, Drumchapel, until 1978 and then St Bartholomew’s, Castlemilk. He was then sent to St Paul’s, Whiteinch, in 1985 and then to St Mary The Immaculate in Pollokshaws.

 St James the Great. © Andrew Cawley
St James the Great.

According to the Church, in 1988 he was “sacked” after allegations of abuse and inappropriate behaviour emerged, claiming Dunne went to the US despite the intervention of former Cardinal Thomas Winning. US church hierarchy allowed the abuser to work at a parish in Santa Clarita.

US lawyer Patrick Wall, an expert in clerical abuse, helped us trace the parish where Dunne served, and weeks of pouring through documents and online forums allowed us to find a mother and daughter whose accusations led to him quitting the US.

After searching across Ireland, using local telephone books, we painstakingly called hundreds of numbers before finally finding Dunne hiding in the quaint rural town of Geashill in County Offaly where he was known to everyone as “Father Joe”.

When we confronted Dunne at his home, he called victims “liars” and threatened to call the police. As a result of our extensive investigation, numerous calls were made to the police and Bishops across Ireland alerting them to the allegations made against Dunne.

Police following up on our investigation finally acted on letters from Dunne’s Irish victim detailing how the vile priest had repeatedly attacked her as she sought counselling from a rape centre in 1989. Last year the brave victim found the strength to give evidence against Dunne. The priest believed he had escaped…but he had not taken into account our determination to see him brought to justice.

I don’t think he realises the harm he has caused us

A victim who was groomed by Joseph Dunne when he was her parish priest has welcomed his prison sentence.

The woman, now in her 50s and married with children, was a teenager when Dunne offered her money to go with him to the seaside, organised tennis matches and suggested that she wore a short tennis skirt.

She decided not to go to the police, because she could not face giving evidence in court.

Instead she reported her concerns to the Archdiocese of Glasgow, but her concerns were dismissed, with Dunne being moved to another parish. He was only dismissed after further complaints about his conduct involving two other girls.

“This man is an internationally-protected paedophile who is finally, after decades of abuse, going to jail.

“This is the best news I have heard in years. He deserves to be locked up and I don’t imagine prison is a kind or forgiving place for sex offenders in their 80s, especially those who abuse the trust of children.

“When I heard earlier this year that he had got a suspended sentence I felt despair at how the justice system could protect abusers for decades.

“I thank the Irish justice system for finally seeking justice.”

St Mary The Immaculate, Pollokshaws, Glasgow. © Andrew Cawley
St Mary The Immaculate, Pollokshaws, Glasgow.

She added that she is not being vitriolic.

“I don’t generally like the concept of sending people to prison because it is brutal but it will be a chance for him to reflect on what he has done.

“I honestly don’t think he realises the harm he causes women and girls.

“He had a terrible reputation for inappropriate behaviour with teenagers in our parish, St Paul’s in Whiteinch, Glasgow.

“He pretended to be helpful and nice to gain access and the trust of teenagers and their families.

“But I hated his advances and did not want to be alone with him.

“Grooming wasn’t known about back then but it is now obvious that there was a pattern to the people he chose – young or vulnerable.

“Eventually, when he turned up at our house my mother told him to go away and leave her daughter alone.

“People were powerless to report sex offenders back then as they felt no one would have believed them.

“When he was moved on from our parish we were told he had been sent on retreat to Ireland as some kind of self reflection.

“I want people to address the serious issue of why this man was left to continue doing this.

“Children and others who are groomed and avoid sexual assault should be classed as near misses and we must intervene before someone is assaulted or worse.”

She adds she has gone from being a devout Catholic to leaving the church.