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Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Surreal Life of a Sligo Priest

Curry-born priest, Fr. Pat Colleary, who has won a High Court challenge
against his extradition to Arizona to face sexual abuse charges.
Photo Carl Brennan

Sex abuse charges: Curry priest says he's innocent

Curry-born priest, Fr. Pat Colleary, who has won a High Court challenge against his extradition to Arizona to face sexual abuse charges. The Sligo priest who has won a High Court challenge against his extradition to Arizona to face sexual abuse charges has proclaimed his innocence but has said he is resigned to the fact that his life as a priest "is over".

In an exclusive interview with The Sligo Champion, Fr. Pat Colleary, also told how the support and prayers of his family and community in the tightly-knit South Sligo area of his native Curry helped him through what he described as a "surreal ordeal. I am absolutely innocent, and my knowledge of that innocence has helped to keep me going through this. I have also been greatly strengthened by the support of my family and the local community in Curry, particularly the local GAA club. I have never been ostracised from the community, I have been made to feel part of it. That support, that belief in my innocence, has helped me through.


"The knowledge that so many people believed in my innocence, and retained their trust in me through these difficult times, has been a source of great comfort", Fr. Colleary said.

The Curry native, ordained in 1974, served in the diocese of Phoenix, Arizona until March 2002, and shortly afterwards was placed on administrative leave. He was accused of sexually abusing a then 10 year old altar boy in 1978, and a second boy subsequently came forward with allegations that he, too, had been abused by the priest.

On the advice of his legal team, Fr. Colleary returned to Ireland in January 2003, and has been living here ever since. A warrant was issued for his arrest by Arizona's Maricopa County Attorney General's Office and extradition proceedings began. He maintains that his fear that he would be unable to receive a fair trial in Arizona -- he could have been jailed for months and maybe even years before trial and without access to bail -- was the principal reason why he left America, and he has been backed up in that contention by the lengthy judgment delivered by Mr. Justice Philip O'Sullivan in the High Court last week.

'Hand of God'

Despite acknowledging that his days as a priest are over, Fr. Colleary said his deep faith in the goodness of God would remain as a great comfort. "Somewhere in all of this is the hand of God", he said. "It has been a surreal experience, as if it was all happening to somebody else other than me. I have asked myself why this has happened to me, why I have had to go through all this, but it is God's will", he said. Giving his ruling in the High Court last week, Justice Philip O'Sullivan said he was prohibiting the extradition of Fr. Colleary firstly because there had been an excessive time delay in reporting the alleged offence and this was likely to prevent a fair trial.

The second reason for refusing extradition related to the bail regime in Arizona which, he concluded, would amount under Irish law to an infringement of his constitutional right to liberty. The Judge also said he had been made aware of a newspaper article picturing a chain gang of inmates of Maricopa County Jail being paraded in an apparently public way, wearing nothing but pink underwear and linked together with pink handcuffs, all under the supervision of Sheriff Arpaio.

The judge had also been made aware of media interviews in which the sheriff indicated Fr. Colleary could be in his jail for two or three years before he ever got a trial. Mr. Justice O'Sullivan said that in his opinion there was ample justification to the submission that Sheriff Arpaio gloated over the inhumane treatment he "dishes out" to his inmates.

He forced them to wear pink to humiliate them and appeared to take a chillingly sadistic pleasure in his role as incarcerator. It was the duty of an Irish court to see that no citizen was handed over to such a regime, he said.

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