"THE MEMORY OF JESUS IS BOTH SACRED AND SUBVERSIVE"
Friday, 21 October 2016
SHORTENED VERSION OF ARTICLE IN LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS
The new dean, Dr Ledwith, was young and friendly and open and very good-looking. He was also reputed to be really smart. One of my friends knew him from home so he often stopped to talk to us. He was a new breed of priest; he had studied in Europe and America. Many of the teaching priests spent their summers in parishes in America so they were full of new ideas. Everything was open for discussion, or almost everything. I went to a brilliant lecture by Dr Ledwith on ideas of paradox within Catholic doctrine. It was whispered that he would one day be a great prince of the Church.
I got to know some of the other priests and realised that for some students – there were three hundred boarders – being friends with a priest meant that you could go up to his room and hang out, make phone calls, listen to music, watch TV. I became friends with a few of the priests, but in my last year became especially friendly with a physics teacher, Father Collins, because my best mate was one of his brightest students.
All of the teaching priests, except Father Collins, had rooms off a corridor in a modern extension. Father Collins’s rooms were in an older building. It was easy to go up and down to his room without being noticed, as the two other priests in his part of the building were often away. His stereo system was amazing. I listened to Tommy there and Jesus Christ Superstar. He always had a box of sweets. I could ring home on his telephone. On Saturday nights after lights out, with his full connivance, we could break all the rules and sneak up to his room and watch The Late Late Show, a controversial chat show on Irish television. We were often there until after midnight.
I knew that Father Collins took a very dim view of homosexuality because he had deeply disapproved when I told a joke about Oscar Wilde at the debating society. And when a friend, who looked slightly effeminate in any case, began to part his hair in the middle, he was told by Father Collins that it was better to part it at the side; a middle parting, he said, was a sign of homosexuality. Nonetheless, there were often vague whisperings about Father Collins. I knew that he liked my friend, but I never allowed myself to think too much about the implications of that. Nothing ever happened.
The dormitory was overseen by a seminarian whom I liked and respected. He was fair-minded and decent. Through him, I got to know another seminarian called James Doyle. He would stop and talk if we met in the corridor, even though fraternisation between seminarians and lay students was frowned on. He had many opinions and enjoyed gossip and had a habit of winding me up so I could never quite tell whether he was serious or not. I liked him.
In the second half of the 1990s these three men – Michael Ledwith, Donal Collins and James Doyle – became part of the pantheon of Irish priests whose names were often mentioned on the news. In 1990 James Doyle pleaded guilty to indecent assault and common assault on a young man and was given a three-month suspended sentence. Five years later, Dr Ledwith resigned suddenly as president of Maynooth College, Ireland’s main seminary, and went to America. He had been secretary to three synods of world bishops in Rome and had served three full terms on the International Theological Commission, the group of 30 theologians who advise the pope. He had made a private settlement with a young man after allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour. He is no longer involved with the Catholic Church. In 1998 Father Collins was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, after pleading guilty to four charges of indecent assault and one charge of gross indecency at St Peter’s College between 1972 and 1984.
These men and others like them became public enemies; they were often filmed leaving courthouses with anoraks over their heads (although it should be emphasised that Dr Ledwith never faced any charges in court). Part of the reason Doyle was given a suspended sentence was that he promised to leave the Republic of Ireland. He went to England. The country wanted rid of these priests.
According to the Ferns Report, the bishop ‘believed that the problem had been solved’ by sending Father Collins to England for two years and that it ‘would be unfair and vindictive to pursue the matter further’. The bishop is reported to have said to his secretary: ‘Hadn’t he done his penance?’ In 1968, Herlihy ordered Collins back to teaching. This time, however, the bishop instructed that the erring priest should have his lodgings in the old building, at a distance from the dormitories, so that he would not be so easily tempted when night fell.
What is interesting about all of this is that no one at any point considered calling the police. The Catholic Church in Ireland in those years was above the law; it had its own laws.
Also, the report states that ‘at least six priests’ working in the college at the time knew why Father Collins had been sent to England in 1966. The bishop’s vicar-general said in a statement to police in 1995 that ‘it was generally believed that Father Collins had a problem with abusing young boys in 1966 and that Bishop Herlihy had sent him away because of it.’ I presume that he meant the priests only when he said ‘it was generally believed’, because it was not, in my opinion, generally believed by the students, despite the evidence given to the Ferns Report by past pupils; it lay instead in the realm of innuendo, rumour and nudges. It was not generally believed, in my opinion, by the young boys getting swimming lessons or being taught to develop photographs, with the exception of the very few picked on for abuse, most of whom told nobody what was happening until many years later, or by parents, or by the police.
Father Collins began to abuse at St Peter’s again in the early 1970s, according to the report. Once more, he measured penises, but this was only for starters. Over a four-year period one boy was masturbated four to six times a year by Collins. In the 1990s, ten boys made allegations against him, including that he ‘forced’ one of them ‘to engage in mutual masturbation and oral sex’ and that he on one occasion attempted anal sex. All of this occurred between 1972 and 1984. In court in 1995, some of his victims spoke about the detrimental effect the abuse has had on their lives.
Collins knew no fear. In 1988 he took time off from his many extra-curricular activities to apply to become principal of the school. By this time Bishop Herlihy had gone to his reward, and there was a new bishop, Brendan Comiskey, an outgoing, friendly man who paid serious attention to the press and to public relations. He appointed Donal Collins as principal, despite being warned against doing so, according to the Ferns Report, by two priests.
The first allegation of sexual abuse since 1966 came in 1989, within seven months of Father Collins’s appointment as principal. In 1991, as more allegations were made, Collins removed himself to Florida, where he sought help and worked in a parish. Bishop Comiskey did not tell the parish in Florida of his history. Although Collins admitted ‘the broad truth’ of the allegations against him to the bishop in 1993, the bishop told the police in 1995 that the priest was continuing to deny the charges.
The first allegations against James Doyle were made to my old friend Dr Sherwood in 1972. Sherwood’s response was, according to the report, ‘questioning and dismissive’. When the president of the college heard the allegations in 1972, however, he suggested that Doyle should join a religious order and not become a diocesan priest. This president was replaced the following year by a president who allowed Doyle to be ordained. When Bishop Herlihy heard a complaint against Father Doyle in 1982 he sent him to a psychologist who wrote that it would ‘seem desirable that he should have a change of role, away from working with young people’. When a new priest, in whose parish James Doyle was a curate, was appointed in 1985, no one informed him of this report. Five years later, Doyle pleaded guilty to indecent assault and received a suspended sentence.
His case is interesting because it was the first prosecution in the courts of a Ferns priest. It is not hard to imagine how much the people of the diocese could have hated James Doyle. Surely he would have been pelted with turnips, which grow plentifully in the area, as he left the court? Instead, people blamed the local newspapers for printing the story, provoking, the Ferns Report says, ‘a considerable backlash’ against one local paper in the Wexford area ‘as it was felt that Father Doyle had been badly treated by the publicity his case had attracted. As the media had already given enough information to disclose the identity of the complainant, this backlash was also directed towards him and his family.’ Thus in 1990 it was made clear that complaining about these priests to the civil authorities would take considerable courage. Bishop Comiskey told the Ferns Inquiry that ‘prior to 1990, the question of reporting child abuse complaints or allegations to the Garda authorities never arose.’
An old priest rubbing his face and mouth around your jaw is bad enough, but many of the cases in the Ferns Report are much more severe. The year after I left St Peter’s, Sean Fortune arrived in the seminary. It was alleged to the Ferns Inquiry that he started almost immediately to abuse. He began by fondling boys and masturbating. On one car journey, for example, he asked a boy about a scar on his face and then began masturbating. When he ejaculated, he smeared his sperm on the boy’s face, telling him that it would heal his scar. Within a few years the allegations included oral sex, and then he began to rape his victims anally, leaving one 16-year-old boy ‘in a mess on the floor, bleeding heavily’. He befriended families so he could meet their sons, picking on students and altar boys. One of his alleged victims committed suicide in the late 1980s. Father Fortune himself committed suicide, while facing multiple charges, in 1999, 26 years after he began his career as an abuser.
No one was safe from them. One woman who had had an operation on her lower abdomen was visited by a Ferns priest. ‘He fondled her’ and she ‘could feel his fingers moving around the vaginal area. She said that she attempted to get up when Father Gamma’ – he could not be named by the report – ‘pushed the elbow of his arm into her stomach to restrain any movement’. Another priest, whom the report calls Father Delta, was visited by a young man about to get married seeking a Letter of Freedom. The priest asked the young man to unbutton his trousers to check that ‘everything down there was in working order.’ The priest fondled his private parts for approximately ten minutes. Another young man approached a priest to report that Father Fortune had abused him. The priest asked the young man to demonstrate what Fortune had done, which included touching his penis, thus beginning to abuse him all over again.
Some of the abuse was from a bad S&M porn movie. In the mid-1960s at St Peter’s, a priest told a boy that there was a researcher from America investigating the development of boys and that he ‘would be an ideal candidate in terms of age and height’. He was told to report to a room where, eventually, he was ‘blindfolded, stripped and caned. His penis was measured and he thinks, but cannot be certain, that he was masturbated.’ He is 99 per cent certain that all this was carried out by the original priest.
The Church likes to think that situations like Ferns and St Peter's are "IN THE PAST".
But St Peter's is still open and operates as a 700 pupil secondary school and as part of the Carlow Institute of Technology. Young people and children go there every day.
A number of people committed suicide because of their abuse in Ferns. Their families must remember them when they have to pass that building?
There are still many living victims of Ferns abuse. They do have to pass that building and indeed the Bishops House where it was covered up.
There are victims in Ferns who have never spoken out. How many? We do not know.
There are priests in Ferns who know a lot more than we do about the whole affair and have kept silent.
Many Ferns priests were trained in St Peters and must have been affected by the carry on there.
St Peters and the Bishops House are almost stone and brick reminders of the darkest of the dark.
Ferns Diocese may never recover from its dark history.
A Dark Cloud hangs over the whole place.
Its an Irish Auschwitz.
"For all the truth about us will be brought out in