Justice catches up with priest after 50 years

A priest who served in Craigneuk has been jailed for six months for abusing a young girl 50 years ago.

Hamilton Sheriff Court heard his victim says Michael Maher ruined her childhood and she has never got over what he did.

Maher (74), now of Stobo near Peebles, admitted using lewd, indecent and libidinous practices and behaviour towards the girl between February 1968 and February 1972.

She was aged between 12 and 15 at the time and he was between 24 and 27.

The court heard the abuse happened at the girl’s home in Holytown and at St Mary’s Church in Whifflet, where Maher was first posted after his ordination in 1968.

Maher was a frequent visitor to the girl’s home and would take her into her parents’ bedroom where he lay on top of her on a bed and simulated sexual intercourse.

It was stressed that they were always fully clothed when this happened.

An allegation that Maher also abused the girl at St Patrick’s Church in Craigneuk while he was a curate there was deleted from the charge.

The victim, who has received counselling in recent years, said her parents held the priest in such high regard that she told no one about the abuse until she saw him at a function in 2005.

She then confided in her husband, but it was not until 2016 that she confronted Maher with an e-mail. He replied, saying he was sorry and begging for forgiveness.

Morag McLintock, prosecuting, told the court: “She never got over the abuse and blamed it for ruining her childhood.”

Several character references were produced in the court by Maher’s lawyer, but Sheriff Thomas Millar said there was no alternative to a prison sentence in the circumstances.