A Catholic priest has been jailed for 31 months for sexually abusing young boys who were in his care in the 70s and 80s. 

Father James Finbar Murphy – who held posts at churches in Sydenham, New Addington, South Croydon and Streatham – abused boys as young as five years old. 

In 2000 he was jailed for 30 months after he admitted abusing seven boys in south London - though the case’s investigating officer said this could be “just the tip of the iceberg”. 

More victims then came forwards and Murphy, now aged 77, was convicted of seven counts of abuse against four more boys. 

At his sentencing hearing on Monday (April 29) his victims detailed how Murphy had impacted their childhoods, their relationships with their parents, and their adult lives. 

One victim told the court how when he disclosed the abuse at 10-years-old, church authorities swept it under the carpet and made him meet Murphy to “forgive him”. 

Your Local Guardian: James Finbar MurphyJames Finbar Murphy (Image: Met Police)

'A wolf in sheep’s costume’ 

Between 1975 and 1988 Murphy took advantage of his position of trust to abuse at least 11 boys who ranged in age from 5 to 11, prosecutor Sophie Shotton told Inner London Crown Court. 

Murphy was first posted at The Church of the Good Shepherd in New Addington, then moved on to the Church of the English Martyrs in Streatham before joining Our Lady and St Philip Neri in Sydenham. 

His final appointment was with St Gertrudes in South Croydon before he abruptly returned to Cork, Ireland, in 1990. 

According to one victim, Murphy was “everywhere” - church, cub scouts, kid’s football teams, school or at events associated with the church. 

He described how Murphy presented himself as a caring figure but was a “wolf in sheep’s costume”. 

“I hated him. He betrayed me, but also he betrayed my mum and that hurts just as much,” he said.  

Another victim told the court how Murphy’s abuse has shaped his life. 

“I find it difficult to leave my home. Not out of shyness or fear, but because I am terribly psychologically wounded.” 

A third victim wrote: “The man who claims the word of God has taken my faith in God.” 

'Cover up’ 

While Murphy’s abuse did not come to light until he was prosecuted for the first time in 2000, one of his victims alleged that his behaviour was “covered up by the church”. 

In his victim impact statement he said  when he revealed the abuse to his mum, aged 10, he was taken to a “big room” to see church authorities. 

He said they pressured him to meet Murphy to forgive him, promising that Murphy would be moved to a different parish.

He added that he was told if his allegations continued his name would be in the news and “everyone would know my shame”. 

“Because I was so young, I did not know forgiveness wasn’t the right thing to do,” he said. 

“I have never and will never forgive that man. However, that is his burden to bear, not mine.” 

Your Local Guardian: Our Lady and St Philip Neri in SydenhamOur Lady and St Philip Neri in Sydenham (Image: Street view)

'Immense harm’ 

When Murphy was jailed for 16 counts of abuse against seven boys in 2000, other victims came forwards. 

One victim contacted the police in 2008 after he discovered Murphy’s previous convictions but after the case was put to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) he was informed it would not be in the public interest to pursue the case due to extradition concerns. 

He said this decision left him feeling suicidal.  

“I felt physically sick that my abuser would not be help to account by the justice system despite him ruining my life” 

But as a result of a Met Police investigation Murphy was arrested in Ireland in May 2021. 

He admitted multiple offences, telling police he had abused approximately 12 boys. 

During his police interview Murphy asked to make a deal with the police. 

Prosecutor Ms Shotton said: “When he was told that couldn’t happen he offered money as compensation to the boys.” 

Murphy subsequently pleaded guilty to five offences of indecent assault in December 2023, before admitted two more counts in February 2024. 

Judge Benedict Kelleher, sentencing Murphy, said the harm he had caused was “immense”. 

“They have described in detail how the abuse had affected them in different ways for their lives,” he said. 

Judge Benedict Kelleher said: “In each case you plainly abused your position as a priest and the trust you were held in by those children or their parents who left them in your care.” 

He sentenced Murphy to two years and seven months in prison.