The Catholic sex abuse scandal: a victim’s view

When we think of Ireland we often think of green fields, friendly people and good music. But the recent reports, commissioned by the government and running thousands of pages, of the behavior of the Catholic Church paint a much darker picture. It was well known by those of us who had to attend Catholic-run schools that there was a sinister aspect to those entrusted to teach us.

I myself was a student in Ireland from 1959 to 1972; during all of that time I was taught by the Christian Brothers, the sect of the Catholic Church most represented in the documents. Our lives consisted of beatings, humiliations, derogatory comments and sexual abuse. The overwhelming power of the Catholic Church was so great that parents could only watch their children being abused and were powerless to say or do anything. The reports released by the investigative authority document sexual and physical abuse-even multiple murders-at the hands of those entrusted to protect and care for the children of Ireland.

The authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland was and is so great that they could literally get away with murder and no one could stop them. The element of fear penetrated the whole country; people would not speak out for fear of offending the church, which could with a quick word from the pulpit destroy a whole family and excommunicate those who dared to stand up to it. Maybe someday in the future somebody will come up with an approximation of the numbers of parents, especially mothers, who committed suicide or drank themselves to death rather than deal with the pain caused to their children by the Catholic Church.

The most recent report brings to light one of the Church’s own files on 54 priests in just the Dublin area alone. The files were held in the safe of the Archbishop of Dublin and were only released to the prosecutor after ten years of legal fighting by the victims of abuse. Reading this report you begin to understand the complete disregard for children in Ireland by the hierarchy in the church. Even though they had overwhelming evidence of child sexual and physical abuse by their own priests, they did absolutely nothing about it. There are even reports of Irish police officers who had been called to deal with children raped by priests going to the clergy, i.e. giving the evidence of the child’s abuse to the abusers themselves and washing their hands of the whole affair, leaving the priest free to continue the abuse and punish the child for complaining.

Ireland was under the influence and control of the Catholic Church for over 500 years; the government, the elected leadership of Ireland, was terrified to confront them in any situation. A government minister who might raise some concerns would find himself out of a job quickly. A teacher or parent would also never be employable in the country and would have to emigrate.

Some people may think that this physical and sexual abuse took place infrequently. Let me be absolutely clear: it took place on a daily basis every day of your life. As a child in the Catholic educational system you were subject to physical and sexual abuse.

There was not one day in my life at school when I was not beaten and humiliated.

The sexual abuse usually took place outside of the classroom, and it was not just one particular student who was singled out. Everybody in that classroom and at school was a victim, and it wasn’t just that school; it was the whole country.

I was lucky enough that I could go home in the evening after school but there were countless thousands of unfortunates who were confined to institutions or who were forced to work every day and could not leave. In County Galway and in other areas the police have recently been digging up bodies of children who were murdered, usually by strangulation or blunt force trauma. Only a nightmare could describe.
what their lives were like.

I was driven to the brink of insanity by the beatings taking place every day in school. I’ll never forget the day, when I was nine years old, that I met my father while I was walking home to lunch. I trusted my father; he was a teacher in a nearby secular school-it was called the vocational school-a place where students went to learn trades and science. I asked him: “Can’t you make them stop? Can’t you tell them to stop beating us and doing the other things that they to do?” (I never mentioned the sexual abuse; I was too young and too ashamed to talk about it.)

My father told me that there was nothing he could do.

He said if he spoke up or approached the Christian Brothers that he would not have a job in the morning, that we would be moving someplace else in Ireland and probably he would never work as a teacher again.

I remember the absolute depression I felt knowing that there was absolutely no hope of stopping the torture, that this was really the way the country was. If you spoke up about what was taking place in Catholic schools you would be looking for a one-way ticket to America the following week. Talking about this even today-I am 54 years of age-causes me unbelievable feeling of self rage and anger and just downright sadness.

I developed a problem with alcohol. Getting drunk seemed to be the only way to try to forget what was happening. Luckily with the assistance of Alcoholics Anonymous I was able to get over that. I know for a fact that many of my friends in school committed suicide or were institutionalized with depression. Many of them to this day can be found in the bars drinking away their memories. I often was asked by wives of friends why their husbands would wake up screaming in the middle of the night and had to try to explain some of what we had endured. I was usually greeted by total disbelief. At the number of lives destroyed by the Roman Catholic Church-practicing Christianity while committing gross acts of sadism on children.

Karl Marx said religion is the opium of the people. I would have to completely agree, but from a different perspective. This “opium” was not the pleasant kind Marx described, not some escape from suffering. It kept whole nation drugged up in fear and then committed the atrocities against children while still convincing the population that the Church was the only one to which God spoke.

Every day in the newspapers we read about cults and religious leaders in the United States sexually abusing children. Why any government would allow such actions is beyond my comprehension. In the case of Ireland there is suspicion that the government and the police were involved in collusion, or even participated in the abuse themselves.

Until just recently, victims could not seek any help for years. First no one would believe them, or would call them liars and claim that they were somehow just out to destroy the work of the great church. If you were unfortunate enough to get a Catholic psychiatrist you could end up locked away in an institution with a diagnosis of madness. In other cases, if your counselor was of a different religion, he or she would usually use this experience you had as evidence that your church was evil and you should join theirs.

Friends and family would turn the other way in shame; it’s a good word to describe the feelings of the victims of the Catholic Church torture squad. Unfortunately my readings have shown that it’s not just the Catholic Church; just about every religion on the planet has this problem to a greater or lesser extent. People become brainwashed by their church and will overlook the most horrible acts committed in the name of God, even allowing their children to be sexually abused and murdered.

What was the purpose of the Catholic Church policy in Ireland? Total domination of people mind-body and spirit? During the Iraq war I was watching the reports of Republicans quoting the Bible as justification for what the war was all about. I watched the Muslims using their book to justify their own war. I listened to some Jews quoting the Old Testament as justification for getting rid of the Palestinians. It seems everybody needs a book to justify their actions. History is full of people using some religious belief as a justification for committing the most terrific acts of violence against their fellow human beings.

The American Constitution set up a separation of church and state; the founding fathers realizing that the religious organizations could pose a grave threat and attempted to be very clear in the Constitution that they would not support any one particular religion but that every man was free to believe whatever they wish. Somewhere along the line this has become lost. Presidents are terrified of not subscribing to some form of Christian belief.

As a victim of abuse by one church I can only say that when people give up the freedom to think for themselves, and blindly accept the teachings of some individual or institution, they have become extremely dangerous.

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