By Tony O’Reilly-
A former pastor, Henry Clarke, once a revered figure in Northern Ireland’s religious community, has been extradited from Canada to face charges of sexual offences against children dating back to the 1970s.
The 81-year-old cleric was arrested on Friday and is set to appear before Belfast Magistrates Court on Saturday, September 16.
In 1980, a former resident of a children’s home where he had worked came forward to police in Northern Ireland with allegations that Clarke sexually abused him on two occasions, one at the children’s home where Clarke worked and one at Clarke’s family home, between Jan. 1, 1966 and Jan. 1, 1972.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary did not open an investigation until 1981
In 1985, Clarke admitted to police that he abused the boy, but the director of public prosecutions for Northern Ireland decided at the time not to prosecute, citing the passage of time.
He later admitted to another incident involving another boy and police obtained that person’s statement, but didn’t refer it to the director of public prosecutions because of the prior decision.
The accusations have shattered the trust placed in him by his congregation.
Pastor Henry Clarke served as a pastor in various churches across Northern Ireland for over four decades, from the 1960s until his retirement in the early 2000s.
During this time, he was a prominent figure, offering guidance and spiritual leadership to his parishioners.
Clarke’s reputation as a charismatic and respected pastor made him a trusted confidant for many. His sermons and pastoral work garnered him a following of devout individuals who looked to him for spiritual guidance and support.
However, the allegations that have emerged against him paint a starkly different picture—one that has left the community in shock and disbelief.
Extradition and Charges
The extradition of Henry Clarke from Canada marks a significant development in the ongoing investigation into historical sexual offences against children in Northern Ireland.
The charges against him relate to alleged incidents dating back to the 1970s, suggesting that the victims have carried the burden of these traumatic experiences for decades.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s International Policing Unit was responsible for Clarke’s arrest in Canada.
He was apprehended on suspicion of “non-recent sexual offences” and subsequently extradited to Belfast, where he will face legal proceedings.
The allegations against Clarke have left a lasting impact on the community he once served. Congregation members, who once held him in high regard, are struggling to come to terms with the stark contrast between the spiritual leader they knew and the accusations against him.
In cases involving individuals of authority and trust, the repercussions extend far beyond legal proceedings.
The emotional toll on survivors, their families, and the wider community cannot be overstated. The courage of those who have come forward to share their experiences should be acknowledged, as it reflects a collective commitment to ensuring justice is served.