Belfast Telegraph

Priest threatened with hammer while praying latest in attacks on clergy in Northern Ireland

A priest in the midst of prayer was grabbed and threatened with a hammer before being robbed in the latest of a spate of attacks on church figures in Northern Ireland.

Father Peter O'Kane was reciting the Rosary inside St Colmcille's parish church in Holywood, Co Down when two men set on him yesterday evening.

They bundled him into the sacristy room and then over to the adjacent church office and parochial house, where they took cash and a mobile phone.

On their way back to the sacristy, the Catholic cleric managed to get away from his captors and called the police. The men ran off.

The priest was not injured in the incident but has been left badly shaken.

"I was praying in the church at 6.10pm when two men approached me and forcibly brought me into the sacristy and then over to the office and the parochial house," he said.

"I managed to escape from them when we returned to the sacristy. The police were then alerted. They made off with a sum of money."

The incident is the third in a series of robberies involving members of the Catholic church in recent weeks.

Last week Father Dermot Maloney required hospital treatment after being beaten and then locked in a bathroom by a gang of youths wielding a hammer in his parochial house in Jonesborough in south Armagh.

The week before two nuns were attacked and robbed by a man who conned his way into their residence on the Falls Road in Belfast.

Father Eddie Magee, spokesman for the Diocese of Down and Connor, said the incidents were very concerning, in particular the level of aggression displayed.

"Given what's happened in the last number of weeks clearly there are those who see clergy and religious as a vulnerable group who are open to attack and therefore the church and the community at large will have to look at the issues that arise from that," he said.

Fr Magee said Fr O'Kane had been greatly heartened by the support he had received from across the community in Holywood in the wake of yesterday's incident and had nothing but praise for the police response.

Officers have appealed for anyone with information about the armed robbery to come forward.

Stormont Assembly member for the area Leslie Cree said the community was angered by what had happened.

"These are clearly two very dangerous individuals who need to be caught as soon as possible before they can endanger anyone else," said the Ulster Unionist North Down representative.

"I share the anger and concern of the local community in Holywood."

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