Priest says he suffered breakdown after cleric who raped him was jailed

Serial abuser Fr James Donaghy was jailed for ten years on 23 charges in 2012

Fr Paddy was diagnosed with PTSD

James Donaghy

Fr Paddy McCafferty as a boy

Fr Paddy McCafferty on the day he was ordained into the priesthood with his mother and father

Fr Patrick McCafferty

Roisin GormanSunday World

An outspoken cleric who helped jail a paedophile priest is about to publish a book about the silence of shame.

Fr Paddy McCafferty was one of four victims of James Donaghy, who put the disgraced former priest behind bars.

He had suffered years of rapes and violent sexual assaults at the hands of the perverted predator as a young student training for the priesthood.

When Donaghy was jailed for ten years on 23 charges in 2012, Fr McCafferty hoped it would be a turning point in the trauma caused by the assaults.

James Donaghy

Instead, the parish priest in Corpus Christi in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, was diagnosed with PTSD and fell into a cycle of self-harming and depression.

“When Donaghy was jailed I expected to feel relieved. I thought ‘you’ve got justice’ and we were vindicated when the truth came out, but I didn’t get better, I got worse. I went down into a terrible place,” says the 60-year-old.

He was eventually prescribed antidepressants, his weight ballooned, his blood pressure soared and at one stage his health was so poor he had to say Mass from a chair.

Fr Paddy reached a turning point in February 2021 and decided his life had to change, and says he wants to share his journey to recovery.

Priest who was abused as a child urges other victims to break their silence

“I was frozen. I was encased in this weight. That was the turnaround. I told myself either I changed, or I would die, and I had too much to do. I was too young to settle for dying or taking a stroke,” says Fr McCafferty.

“I’ve now lost eight stone and I’m fit as a fiddle.”

Alongside his physical transformation he’s also coming to terms with the sexual violence Donaghy inflicted on him, and he’s on a mission to encourage other people to speak out.

In the next few weeks, he’ll put the finishing touches to a book detailing his journey from the emotional prison Donaghy put him in.

He reveals he’s only recently been able to cry about his experience and grieve for the young man who was so damaged.

“I’ve got myself back and I’ve been able to ask this heartbroken kid ‘where did you go?’ and tell him how much I missed him, and I couldn’t stop crying.

“In the last year I have been allowing who I used to be to grieve and mourn his losses.

“I didn’t enjoy being him and I couldn’t look at those pictures of myself as a good-looking kid because it was too painful.”

He had already been abused by a babysitter and a local youth by the age of six and coped with that early trauma by telling himself it didn’t happen.

When he went to St Peter’s College in Wexford in his late teens to study for the priesthood, the predator singled him out.

The first assaults took place before Donaghy’s ordination, and when he was given a parish in Belfast, he attacked Fr Paddy every time the younger man returned to his family home in Whiteabbey.

Fr Paddy McCafferty as a boy

“He would come into our family home as if he owned the place, sprawl on the furniture and be rude to my father and he’d say, ‘you’re coming with me’.

“I was 20 but I looked about 14 and he was a lot bigger than me. He’d arrange that I’d have to spend the night and I knew what was coming and there was nothing I could do about it.

“I was lost, and I was horrified, and I was ashamed. The only way I could cope with it was to say it didn’t happen. I went out of my body when it happened.”

Fr Paddy was briefly thrown out of the seminary for going on nights out with his friends in Belfast and spent a year at Donaghy’s mercy.

“It’s only now that I can say rape,” says the cleric.

“He would come into the room when I was asleep, and he’d be naked and aroused and he’d pull the covers down and flip me over and get stuck in and I’d be suffocated, and he’d be biting and licking me.”

The priest says the abuse stopped when he was sent to study in Maynooth. Fr Paddy told a friend Donaghy wanted to come and meet him, but he was afraid of him.

“I went to meet him at the gates and my friend came along. When Donaghy arrived at the gates I introduced them, and when he put his hand out my friend eyeballed him, and he got all jumpy and jittery.”

He later became aware that the Catholic Church knew of abuse allegations against the cleric in the late 1990s, and Fr Paddy disclosed his own experience in 2001 when he saw Donaghy with a younger boy. He later learned the predator was already abusing the boy.

In 2002, he suffered a nervous breakdown.

Fr Paddy McCafferty on the day he was ordained into the priesthood with his mother and father

“I was in B&Q buying Christmas lights and there was a little boy all dressed up for Christmas, and he was looking at the lights with wonder. I started thinking what if someone came into his life and turned off the lights. I was broken.”

It wasn’t until 2004 that Donaghy, by then in a parish in Bangor, was removed from ministry. In 2009, police confirmed another victim had come forward and in February 2012, after a bruising trial and cross- examination, James Donaghy was convicted. When a fourth victim came forward, he pleaded guilty and was given a two-year concurrent sentence in 2013. He was released from prison in 2017 after serving five years.

Fr Paddy says he was fully supported by Bishop Noel Treanor and despite his experience his faith never wavered.

“I knew God and I knew good priests. I knew Our Lord said there would be evil in his Church,” he said.

The cleric has been outspoken about his views on abortion, urging voters last year to support anti-abortion party Aontú, and voiced his support for controversial priest Fr Sean Sheehy, who delivered a sermon in Kerry about mortal sins including same sex marriage.

His mission now is to encourage other people to shake off the silence that prevents healing from sexual abuse.

“What stops people is the shame and fear, and fear of not being believed. I have lost the shame and I’m empowering people to tell their story,” he says.

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