A man consumed by “demons” from his childhood decided to “challenge a member of the Catholic Church” before going to Mass armed with a Stanley Knife where he left a priest terrified, a court heard.
Seamus Peter Murdock (41), of Whitehill Road, Carnlough, appeared at Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday where he admitted possessing the knife and a second charge of common assault on Fr Dermot McKay, and was jailed for two months.
Charges of making a threat to kill the Carnlough Parish Priest and possessing an offensive weapon, the knife, with intent to commit murder, were withdrawn.
Jailing Murdock, District Judge Peter King said it must have been a “terrifying” situation for Fr McKay and said the court had to send out a strong message that “priests in the sanctity of their own churches need to be protected”.
Despite being jailed, Murdock was due to walk free from court because he had already served the equivalent time on remand.
A prosecutor said at 11.45am on Sunday April 30 this year Fr McKay was celebrating Mass at St John the Evangelist Church in Carnlough and noticed a person he did not know who appeared to be asleep in a pew.
When Mass finished the priest entered a vestry and noticed the man in the pew was in possession of a knife.
Murdock then entered the vestry and spoke to the priest and made a threat to him whilst holding a knife in his hand causing Fr McKay to fear for his safety, the prosecutor added.
After a “stand-off” the priest was uninjured and Murdock then left and when police were called they recovered the knife.
Defence barrister Stephen Law, said the defendant, who was hand-cuffed in the dock, “unreservedly apologises” for his actions.
Mr Law said the incident was borne out of a “tragic background” coupled with Murdock’s mental health difficulties.
The barrister said that whilst the behaviour could not in any way be “explained or condoned,” his client, as a young child, was “physically, mentally and emotionally traumatised by members of the Catholic Church”.
Mr Law said his client had appeared before the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Banbridge in recent years.
He said Murdock had lived in Carnlough for a number of years and after took a “cocktail” of anti-psychotic medication and alcohol on a two drink binge at his home before the church incident.
Mr Law said his client then made his way to the local church with a Stanley Knife.
“He was thinking morbid thoughts of his past, he decided he should challenge a member of the Catholic Church in the manner which he did,” said Mr Law.
He added it was a “very alarming incident” and “but for the Grace of God the priest was not injured”.
The defence lawyer said the “terrible trauma” Murdock “had to endure” throughout his life was “too distressing to go in to detail”.
Mr Law said Murdock, who had spent five weeks on remand in prison, wished to say sorry for what he had done.
Mr Law said his client likes to “express his pain through art”.
He said members of the community were in court to support Murdock who had lived recently in the Carnlough area.
Mr Law said his client could not not take away what he had done and although members of the community were trying to help him it was perhaps better to remove himself from the area.
Sentencing Murdock, Judge King said he had a lack of a relevant record but he was concerned that the defendant’s “demons” are still there.
He said a report showed the defendant had a traumatic past and his testimony at the Banbridge inquiry was there for all to see.
Judge King added: “This must have been a terrifying situation that the priest found himself in. The court has to put out a strong message that priests, in the sanctity of their own churches, need to be protected”.