It was a case from an era – 1985 – when Ireland could not officially even countenance the suggestion that parish priests had affairs or ‘improper’ relationships.
But the case of the killing of Fr Niall Molloy in Kilcoursey House, Clara, County Offaly – and the ‘Not Guilty’ verdict for the only suspect, Richard Flynn – has never gone away.
Molloy, 52, was parish priest of Castlecoote, County Roscommon.
Ireland’s relationship with the Church and its priests who were once above any suspicion has, in many ways, changed profoundly in the intervening time.
There has been a cold case review by the Ireland’s Serious Crime Review Team, an Irish Department of Justice review, and a report by the Garda Ombudsman into the death in the now 37-year old incident.
In 2011, a medical examination of brain tissue kept after the original post-mortem revealed that there was a high probability that the priest was alive up to six hours after the initial attack and therefore might have lived if medical help had been summoned.
This evening in Ireland RTÉ Investigates will unveil what it says is new evidence related to the notorious case.
The TV programme has obtained Richard Flynn’s own account of the extent his assault on Fr Molloy and a possible motive for it.
They contradict what he told gardaí.
“My father, my brothers and sister were very concerned over Thérèse’s developing relationship with Fr Molloy, they went everywhere together; shows, hunting…”
Fr Niall Molloy was badly beaten and died on the bedroom floor of married couple Richard and Thérèse Flynn in whose house he had his own bedroom.
Only three people were present at the time, businessman Richard Flynn, Fr Molloy his wife Thérèse – with whom the priest had a long-standing friendship/relationship.
Mr Flynn was charged.
He was dramatically acquitted of causing the Roscommon priest’s death after a strong intervention by the trial judge, Judge Frank Roe, a family friend, who directed the jury to give a not guilty verdict.
He insisted on telling the court despite rumours there had been nothing improper in the relationship between Fr Molloy and Thérèse to explain the assault.
Fr Molloy and Mrs Flynn had been friends since childhood, and shared an interest in horses. In the 1960s, Father Molloy inherited £60,000 from his father, which he used to start in business with Mrs Flynn and they jointly owned horses and land.
Molloy had a room in the Flynns’ home Kilcoursey House.
The diminutive judge Roe, known locally as ‘the jockey’, knew the principals through hunting and equestrian circles.
Judge Roe died in 2003, aged 83.
During Mr Flynn’s trial, in June 1986, Judge Frank Roe said: “It is perfectly clear from all the evidence that the friendship between Fr Molloy and Mrs Flynn was a perfectly proper one…They were great friends for nearly 30 years and there is not an iota of evidence that there was anything improper in their relationship.”
During Richard Flynn’s trial, the defence said that it was possible that Father Molloy had died of heart failure.
Judge Roe, a “great friend” of the families involved, gave his direction to the jury less than four hours into the trial.
A coroner’s inquest said the priest had died from a “subdural haemorrhage consistent with having sustained a serious injury to the head”.
But among the documents to be revealed this evening is one which Mr Flynn – who died in 2017 – prepared for a publisher.
In it he wrote that from about 1961, six years after he married, Fr Molloy began to stay regularly at the Flynn family home, and later lived there.
“He would visit us about two or three times a week. Sometimes he would stay overnight and leave early in the morning to be on time for his parochial duties.
“My father, my brothers and sister were very concerned over Thérèse’s developing relationship with Fr Molloy, they went everywhere together; shows, hunting etc so much so that on a visit to our home my father when he saw Fr Molloy in the yard actually told me to ‘kick him out’.”
In another document Mr Flynn told his psychiatrist that he believed “there was nothing physical in his wife’s liaison, but two episodes disturbed him”.
In the third document, he detailed those episodes: “One night on my return…I could see her leaving Father’s bedroom and going into her own, when I got to the bedroom, she pretended to be asleep – I woke her up and confronted her with what I saw and she denied it completely… weeks later, I again was returning…and I went to the bedroom to find Thérèse not there – I went to Father’s bedroom to find them both fast asleep in bed in their night attire.
“I walked over to her and tapped her on the shoulder, she woke up and ran to our bedroom… In the morning I asked Thérèse to leave and go and live with Fr Molloy and I would take care of the children. This she refused to do. I wrote off my marriage at this stage.”
Flynn also stated in the document that four or five years before Fr Molloy’s death he consulted a solicitor about a separation from his wife.
Liam Hanniffy, who died earlier this year, was the chief psychiatrist at St Fintan’s Hospital in Portlaoise Prison who assessed Richard Flynn.
He spoke to RTÉ Investigates and said: “(The) relationship almost akin to marriage inside of another more correct marriage… it was a tough situation to face…I saw both of them having a problem.
Flynn was charged with assault causing harm and manslaughter. He denied the charges and told gardaí he punched Fr Molloy in self-defence: “I hit Fr Molloy at least twice and probably three times in the face with my clenched fists.”
He never made a full statement to gardaí.
The only other person in the room that night aside from Fr Molloy was Thérèse who said she could not remember what happened.
New documents contain Flynn’s account of how he “butted (Molloy) into the face several times with my head,” he said.
“At this stage, I had another lapse of memory. Then I remember hitting him one punch on the left side of the jaw. Then I had another black-out and the next thing was I saw him lying on the floor.”
According to the psychiatric assessment Mr Flynn told psychiatrist Hannify that while he only remembered hitting Fr Molloy one punch. He said: “I must have hammered him.”
In his report, Hanniffy suggested: “I believe this frenzied attack was due to the sudden release of subconscious anger on Mr Flynn’s part – anger, resentment and frustration that had been repressed by him consciously or unconsciously for the greater part of his married life- and which, again in my view, constituted prolonged, sustained and intense provocation.”
Watch RTÉ Investigates: Father Molloy – New Evidence tonight on Prime Time at 9:35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player.