A FORMER Irish priest who sexually abused seven children has been sentenced to a total of 15 years in jail.
Francis Paul Cullen, an 85-year-old who is originally from Dublin, had previously admitted 21 counts of child sexual abuse while serving as a priest in Mackworth and Buxton, both in Derbyshire, and Hyson Green in Nottingham, between 1957 and 1991.
The paedophile priest had since spent more than two decades on the run in Spain before being extradited to the UK from Tenerife last year.
His victims included five boys and two girls aged between six and 16.
At Derby Crown Court, Judge Jonathan Gosling told him: "You took full advantage of your position, and the trust in which you were held, to satisfy your perverted lust.
"To say that you were a disgrace to your cloth understates your activity. This was gross hypocrisy. In a sentence, your entire life was a lie."
The Court also heard how Cullen’s crimes had affected his victims in a series of statements read out in court.
One 58-year-old Derby victim, who was abused from the age of eight, said: "You said you had a calling from God when you joined the priesthood. You were correct - you had a calling but it was from the devil and I hope you get to meet your Maker.
"That first kiss you gave me opened up a Pandora's box and, when I was eight years old, you took my innocence away from me."
A second man, who is now 61, said in his statement: "I can forgive but I can never forget."
After the sentencing, Father Andrew Cole, spokesman for the Diocese of Nottingham said: "The Diocese of Nottingham is pleased that Cullen has been given a custodial sentence which reflects the gravity of his offences and the scandal which they have caused.
"We realise that no sentence, however long, can fully make up for the lasting damage which his victims have suffered but we hope that his sentence will contribute towards their healing.
"We will continue to work with the police and other statutory authorities whenever allegations of abuse arise and will ensure that our churches and parishes are safe and welcoming for all members of the community.
"We are truly sorry for the wrong that has been done by Cullen to his victims and their families; their trust was betrayed and their dignity violated. We will do whatever we can to support Cullen’s victims and all who have been affected by this tragedy.
"The abuse of children is evil and cannot be tolerated. The Catholic Church takes the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults extremely seriously, and it is our hope and expectation that no child or vulnerable adult should ever suffer at the hands of others."