A FORMER Ballarat priest who indecently assaulted two young girls more than 40 years ago has apologised, a court has heard.
Leslie Sheahan, 85, a Ballarat priest during the 1960s, was on Friday given a six-month jail sentence - suspended for 12 months - for historic indecent assault charges.
Ballarat Magistrates Court heard Sheahan, who pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful and indecent assault of a girl from the 1960s, could not remember the incidents.
The court heard Sheahan, while an assistant priest of St Columba’s Church in 1968, grabbed the breasts of an 13-year-old girl after arriving at the victim’s house with her father and uncle.
Police prosecutor Senior Constable Sam Young said Sheahan had leaned forward and attempted to kiss the victim before "wrestling" her to the floor of the laundry.
The following day the victim's father approached Sheahan about the incident and the priest told him "he was sorry, had had too much to drink and it would never happen again".
Senior Constable Young told the court of an earlier incident between 1964-1965 at Warrenheip, where Sheahan fondled the breasts of a girl aged 10 or 11 at the time.
He said Sheahan had laid on top of the victim, who was home from school sick, with his arms around her before she felt "something hard pressed on her buttocks" and heard Sheahan whisper in her ear "you're beautiful".
A victim impact statement read to the court revealed one of the victims kept the incident a secret for 45 years.
The court heard the incident had affected the victim's feelings of worthiness. The victim said in the statement she came to realise how "predatory" Sheahan's actions were.
"At the time I was shocked and embarrassed", she said in the statement.
"I often questioned why this happened to me."
Defence lawyer Jeremy Harper told the court the case had been “traumatic” for Sheahan, who had recently been released from jail on another indecent assault charge.
“He just wants the nightmare to end,” Mr Harper said.
“It’s an extremely difficult matter for my client, because he has no memory from 50 and 40 years respectively.
“His long-term memory has declined.
“He remembers an association with these families … but he has no memory of going to either house.”
Mr Harper said no witnesses were able to give evidence because they were either dead or could not remember the incident.
Presenting an apology letter from Sheahan to the court, Mr Harper said his client accepted it must be difficult for the complainants and appealed to the magistrate not to deal with the matter with an immediate jail term.
“These matters aren’t as serious as the first lot he went to jail for,” he said.
Magistrate Catherine Lamble said despite the incident “happening a long time ago”, the charges were “serious”. But she said she would take Sheahan’s apology into account.
Ms Lamble sentenced Sheahan to a six-month jail term to be served concurrently and suspended for 12 months. He was also placed on the sex offenders list for eight years.