AN Ipswich priest will spend the next three months in jail after admitting abusing a young girl.
Murray Alexander Moffat was an assistant priest at Sacred Heart Church at Booval when he sexually abused the girl from 1978 to 1980 – when she was aged between 12 and 15.
Ipswich District Court heard the victim, now aged 43, confronted Moffat last year while wearing a police wire and he admitted the abuse.
But he claimed she encouraged it and kissed him first.
“I made a mistake – you invited me,” Moffat told his victim in the taped conversation.
“I should’ve said no but I didn’t. I thought you wanted me to do that.”
Moffat, 64, apologised for any pain the abuse caused her.
“You were special to me,” he told the girl.
Crown Prosecutor Sarah Farnden said the priest told the girl she instigated the behaviour and it was “his mistake to allow her to do that”.
Ms Farnden said the priest was regularly allowed to spend time with the girl in her bedroom where he kissed and touched her.
In about 1980 the girl remembered her dad driving her to see an industrial fire at Bundamba with Moffat sitting in the front passenger seat and her behind him when the priest reached back and molested her.
The court heard Moffat gave the girl gifts including a pushbike and an Easter egg and said he loved her and wanted to marry her.
The girl approached the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane in 1995 to complain and it was referred to Queensland Police, but she did not take the case further.
The church sent Moffat on a “retreat” and he had five counselling sessions with a psychiatrist before returning to work a few months later.
Moffat pleaded guilty to three charges of indecent treatment of a child aged under 16.
He was sentenced to 18 months jail which will be suspended after he serves three months for an operational period of three years.
Defence barrister Gary Long said his client had no prior criminal history and was held in high regard by his parish, friends and members of the clergy.
Mr Long said Moffat now suffered a range of health complaints, including heart problems and diabetes.
The Archbishop of Brisbane, on behalf of the Archdiocese of Brisbane expressed deep remorse for the pain and suffering experienced by the victim.
The Most Reverend John Bathersby said he was deeply saddened by the grave abuse of trust and breach of pastoral care in the case.
“The Archdiocese offers a sincere apology to the victim,” the Archbishop said. “We credit greatly her courage in coming forward to speak with the police so that justice might be achieved.”
The Archdiocese confirmed Moffat had not been involved in any public priestly ministry since June last year and the Archbishop will initiate processes under church law to see if other penalties are called for.
Moffat’s authorisation to minister publicly or privately was revoked upon his conviction.
When asked why Moffat was not stood down in the mid-90s, an Archdiocesan spokesman said the matter was referred to police in 1995 and investigated but the victim chose not to proceed.
“In the absence of charges being laid but to ensure that Fr Moffat posed no risk in continuing to undertake his priestly duties, the Archdiocese had Fr Moffat professionally assessed by a psychologist,” the spokesman said.