Northern Ireland news

Priest Fr John Murray to face historic sex abuse charges

Fr John Murray, the former parish priest in Rasharkin, Co Antrim

A PRIEST is to return home from Spain within weeks to be questioned by police about allegations of historic sex abuse

Fr John Murray (77), a former parish priest at St Mary's in Rasharkin, Co Antrim, is facing charges of indecent assault against three females.

The case is understood to be at an early stage and no court date has been set yet.

It is understood Fr Murray has been living in Spain for the past two years but will return to the north within the next four to six weeks.

A priest in the diocese of Down and Connor, he served as a curate in St Matthew's in east Belfast as well as other parishes in Belfast and Coleraine, Co Derry. He moved to Rasharkin in 2009.

In March this year, a statement was read at Masses telling parishioners that in March 2016 the diocese received a complaint of a historical safeguarding nature relating to the then parish priest of Rasharkin.

This information was brought immediately to the attention of the statutory authorities by the diocesan safeguarding office.

Bishop Noel Treanor immediately suspended the cleric's ministry pending an investigation. The diocese said it had fully cooperated with the statutory investigation and would continue to do so.

"As with every person in such circumstances the cleric's innocence is presumed until the contrary is proven and he retains the right to his good name," a spokesman said.

"In order to ensure that it does not compromise an ongoing statutory investigation and to respect the rule of law, the diocese cannot make comment on a matter that is currently being investigated by the PSNI."

Fr Murray has not yet been questioned by police about the allegations.

His lawyer Denis Moloney told The Irish News last night that Fr Murray's family was making arrangements for his return. It is understood a risk assessment is to be carried out to see if he is capable of taking a flight.

"Within four to six weeks we expect him to be back. The head of the abuse unit has been informed and we have been in touch with the investigating officers," Mr Moloney said.

"As soon as he is back, the matter will be progressed."

A Public Prosecution Service spokeswoman told The Irish News: "The Public Prosecution Service can confirm it has taken a decision to prosecute a 77-year-old man on charges of indecent assault against three females."

The diocese last night said it could make no further comment.

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