When I was nineteen or twenty, I worked in the X-ray department of a general hospital in Ladbroke Grove, London. One of the radiographers there (the people who actually take the see-thru photos, as opposed to the doctors who interpret them, who are called radiologists) was a very nice lady from Ireland, who would have been about forty then. She told me a very interesting story. She came from a small village in the west of the country, and all her young life, while she was at school, she longed to join a convent. All she ever wanted was to be a nun. So after she left school she packed a bag, kissed her family goodbye and went to a local convent to join, as a novice, or whatever girls are called before they become novices – before they take their final oaths.
But she left after a short while. She told me she enjoyed the devotional side but what she could not tolerate was that every evening, some nuns would come to the girls’ dormitory and get into bed with them and make use of them. And apparently, abuse was always followed by a prayer and a threat not to tell anyone. Mary (let’s call her that) stuck it for about 2 weeks and then walked out. However, accusing nuns of any wrongdoing was unthinkable and such was the stigma of failing to stay the course, that Mary couldn’t stay in her village. She had to go somewhere. So less than 24 hours after leaving the convent she was aboard a ferry to England, to stay with relatives. It all worked out for her in the end, and she ended up with a home and career in London.
Even at the very worldly wise age of nineteen, I wasn’t at all surprised by Mary’s story because on family holidays in Ireland when I was younger I had seen the way the clergy ran the place rather like the mafia. They controlled everyone’s lives – maybe not in Dublin, but certainly in the countryside, in the Rural Ireland that Eamonn Devalera was so keen to create. A priest or nun only had to walk into a shop or restaurant and the staff would all drop what they were doing and hurry over to fawn over them, while the grinning objects of their grovelling helped themselves to whatever they wanted, very often without having to pay. I saw it several times and even as a child I knew enough to be outraged. No one dared resist – one word of condemnation from the pulpit and a person could become an outcast in their own community. It was not until the 1990s that Ireland suddenly began to snap out of it and throw off the suffocating influence of the church.
So, I was not at all surprised at this news feature from the BBC, and this one too. A report has been released by the Child Abuse Commission in Ireland that has taken nine years to compile, and has revealed 2000 victims of sexual and violent abuse by priests, monks and nuns in that country over the last few decades. Reading other reports on this I see that they can identify over 500 culprits – so the excuse that it’s just a few bad apples won’t apply. We are talking about a significant minority of the Irish clergy -- and those are only the ones who have been found out. The experiences related here give just a taste of what boys and girls had to go through.
Sadly, even though this report has been released, and the state has paid compensation to many hundreds of victims, there does not appear to be any plan to search out and prosecute any of these priests and nuns. Of course, a great many of them must be dead by now, but there must be hundreds still alive. The church used to protect them by shielding them, and moving them from one parish to another if there was any hint of scandal – sound familiar? Some of those people need to do prison time, age and ordination not withstanding, but I am not optimistic. The church has had centuries of practice of looking after its own perverts.
Meantime, it is worth remembering that apart from convicted sex offenders and pimps, one of the highest risk groups for child sex abuse is the clergy. Never leave your child alone with one of them.