Co Down parishioners left shocked by raid ordeal of priest Peter O'Kane
Tearful parishioners were in disbelief as they learned of the terror their much-loved priest experienced at the hands of armed robbers.
Father Peter O'Kane was badly shaken after two robbers threatened him with a hammer inside a Catholic church in Co Down.
The men forced the priest in to his parochial house beside St Colmcille's Church in Holywood on Tuesday at 6.20pm.
The weekend's collections had already been sent away but the men fled with a sum of money and a mobile phone.
Fr O'Kane was saying the rosary inside the chapel at the time and thought his attackers were members of the public who had come in to pray.
In a statement, the shaken priest said: "I was praying in the church at 6.10pm when two men approached me and forcibly brought me in to the sacristy and then over to the office and the parochial house. I managed to escape from them when we returned to the sacristy. The police were then alerted."
Fr O'Kane continued with his duties yesterday morning as he conducted a funeral service.
Distressed church volunteers told those who arrived for prayers and a morning funeral, of the attack on the man who is their "peace and comfort", which they say will "haunt the church".
The church often sees people arriving to light a candle or pray as they travel home from work or school – around the time the priest was threatened. The congregation are appalled that plans may have to be put in place to close the chapel even earlier in the day.
A 23-year-old parishioner said: "To be dragged out of your place of work, terrified and threatened, is disgusting at any level."
The incident is the latest in a spate of violent attacks on clergy.
Fr Eddie McGee, a spokesman for the Down and Connor diocese, said many involved within the Church would be considering ways to prevent themselves falling victim to attack.
Recent attacks on the clergy include:
- Last week Father Dermot Maloney suffered broken teeth after he was smashed in the face with a hammer by robbers.
- Last month two nuns were assaulted by a man who conned his way in to their home in west Belfast. The man ordered one nun to empty her purse. He then attacked her and another nun.
- In May Sister Mary Carlin (70) was knocked to the ground and bitten on the thumb by two thugs outside her home at Kansas Avenue in Belfast during an attempt to steal her car. She had only returned from celebrating her 70th birthday.