Northern Ireland

Father Peter Donnelly trial - Witness recounts 'abuse'

Belfast Crown Court
Image caption The woman gave evidence over a live TV link up at Belfast Crown Court

A woman who claims she was sexually abused as a child by a Catholic priest in east Belfast has given tearful evidence at his trial in the city.

Testifying at Belfast Crown Court over a live TV link up, the 40-year-old woman said she had considered suicide before reporting the alleged abuse.

The priest, Peter Donnelly from Drumaroad Hill in Castlewellan, faces seven charges of abuse on dates between 31 July 1983 and 1 August 1987.

The 69 year old denies the charges.

During her testimony, the woman told the jury how she "turned to drink" in an effort to block her memories of the abuse she says she suffered at the hands of the accused.

The alleged offences were reported to police two years ago and she told the prosecution lawyer she had been suffering from depression and said: "I was coming to the end of the road."


The stark choice facing her, she told the lawyer, was either to report the alleged abuse, "or take my own life".

"I was thinking that I was the one to blame and I thought that's what people would have thought of me and that they would not have believed me," the woman said.

Father Donnelly was curate at St Matthew's Church in Bryson Street, Belfast at the time and denies six counts of indecent assault and one of gross indecency alleged to have occurred when the woman was aged between 10 and 14 years old.

In her evidence, the woman recounted how she was regularly in the parochial house helping out with various duties around the church when the priest repeatedly assaulted her in the hallway of the building.

Often wiping away tears, the woman said she could remember another time when the priest had taken her into the dining room and assaulted her.

Repeatedly refusing the offer of a break, she told the court and jury that on one occasion Father Donnelly offered to show her the oratory of the parochial house but instead, led her into his bedroom on the top floor.

Different parish

Crying, she told the court the priest had assaulted and inappropriately touched her.

When leaving the bedroom, she claimed Father Donnelly told her to come back to the parochial house some night so they could watch a video, adding that: "I can't remember what I said but looking back, I think he was preparing to do more."

Asked if there were any further incidents of abuse, the woman said there had been but only in the hallway of the Parochial House, never in the bedroom or dining room again and that it ended when Father Donnelly was moved to a different parish.

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