A former North Coast priest who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing children in his native Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s has been released from an Irish jail.

Patrick Joseph McCabe, 77, was freed over the weekend by a Dublin judge based on his age, statements of contrition and the fact that he had already served 21 months of a two-year sentence.

Men who claimed they were molested by McCabe when he served at St. Bernard Parish in Eureka from 1983 to 1985 said Tuesday they were disappointed he didn't receive a more serious punishment.

Greg Horne, 40, of McKinleyville, said the judge missed a chance to send a strong message that church abuse won't be tolerated.

"He should never be a free man, ever," Horne said. "I don't get anything. There's nothing for me. You can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again."

Horne and three other North Coast men who claimed they were abused by McCabe sued the Irish order and the Santa Rosa diocese, contending that officials knowingly placed a pedophile in their midst.

Three of the men settled their lawsuits last year for $550,000. The Archdiocese of Dublin paid $400,000 and the Santa Rosa diocese paid $150,000.

Horne refused to make a deal and his case is pending. He's been hampered by a state Supreme Court ruling on how long a person can wait to sue after being molested.

He said he was worried that other people could be abused by McCabe despite his age.

"I know he'll do it again," Horne said. "It's on the shoulders of the Irish courts."

A lawyer for the four North Coast men said they were all dismayed to learn McCabe was allowed to walk. The attorney, Joe George of Sacramento, said he was grateful the Irish government prosecuted McCabe and published an investigative report on sexual abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, known as the Murphy report, that helped victims connect with each other.

"If it wasn't for the Murphy report, none of this would have come to light," George said. "One guy wouldn't know about the other. They would have gone through life suffering in silence."

McCabe and other Irish priests were transferred to the United States after they were accused of abusing Irish children. McCabe was designated as a pedophile and placed on a drug to curb his sexual impulses at a church treatment facility in New Mexico.

Months later, in 1983, he was assigned to Eureka in a move arranged by former Dublin Archbishop Dermot Ryan and former Santa Rosa Bishop Mark Hurley, according to the Irish report.

McCabe was transferred to a Guerneville parish in 1985 after parents complained he put children on his knee during first confessions. He went on to work in Sacramento and Stockton before leaving the priesthood in 1988.

McCabe was working as an administrator in an Alameda nursing home when Interpol located him in 2007. He was extradited from the Bay Area to Ireland in 2011 to face charges that he abused young boys there decades earlier.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.