A former priest who indecently assaulted two young girls as they made their first confession was given an 18-month suspended sentence at Cork Circuit Criminal Court today.

John Calnan, 79, now living at the Presbytery, Roman Street, Co Cork, sexually abused each girl as they went into a room alone with him to make their confession.

The girls were aged between six and seven years old at the time of the assaults which took place in the mid to late 1970s.

The former priest was also charged with sexually abusing a third girl during confession when she was 10 years old.

The court was told that the victims thought that what he was doing to them was part of the confession.

One victim, in her impact statement, said she did not know if his actions were part of confession. She said she was ashamed and embarrassed and said it would kill her parents to know what he did to her.

She said she was so relieved when gardaí told her he was pleading guilty.

The court heard that Calnan had been jailed previously for sex crimes against children. 

In July 2012 he was sentenced to prison for eight years with the final three years suspended for attempted rape and indecently assaulting a girl and a boy.

In 2015, he was given a three-year sentence, with the last year suspended for indecently assaulting a girl, while in March of this year, he got a suspended two-year sentence for indecently assaulting another girl.

Sentencing Calnan today, Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said: "This is outrageous, to do this to innocent young girls who were undergoing a sacrament of the church. The breach of trust is phenomenal."

The judge noted that he had taken "significant steps to rehabilitate in Gracewell (a treatment centre in Birmingham) before he was ever outed as an offender". 

He noted he has not re-offended and said given his age and level of rehabilitation he saw no point or purpose in imprisoning him at this stage, imposing an 18-month suspended sentence.

Calnan was ordained in 1964 serving most of his time in Co Cork. In 1992, he stopped ministering as a priest and attended the Gracewell clinic in Birmingham.