Tag Archives: Clerical Abuse


“Yet as early as 309AD the Catholic Council of Elvira recorded the phenomenon of clergy abuse of minors. So, for at least seventeen centuries our church was supposedly totally unaware of paedophile recidivism and of the fact that clergy sexual abuse of children causes the deepest psychological (and therefore also spiritual) injuries – including severe mental illness and suicide.”
So wrote Sean O Conaill, “Shame over sexuality has blinded Church to sex abuse”, http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie
I’m not convinced that the Council of Elvira proves anything other than some level of an awareness of a problem that has been part of the human story for millennia.

As far as I know other ancient writings originating outside the Catholic Church show a similar awareness of this problem throughout society.

But Sean’s question is a good one; why clerical abuse? I suspect if we can answer that question we’ll also go a long way to discovering why ‘lay’ men and women abuse children. In other words, I believe the problem is fundamentally one of basic human development whether learned, environmental, individual choice, biological or genetic, or a combination of some or all of these and other factors? Of course there may very well be factors specific to the clerical lifestyle, but I believe such factors merely compound a pre-existing human problem.

As a priest educated in the 1980’s (ordained 1991) there was no mention of child sexual abuse in my ‘formation’. It’s not that child sexual abuse was somehow a Church secret or denied; it’s that it just didn’t register on the minds of our teachers. We had some superb teachers, and I have no doubt that at least one of them would definitely have considered child sexual abuse extensively as part of our course-work if he had been aware of paedophile recidivism and the deep psychological injuries caused by such abuse.

So if there was awareness of the destructive effects of paedophilia as apposed to a vague awareness that there are ‘dirty old men’ in the world it had been largely lost by the time I was studying for the priesthood in the 1980s, or at the very least, it was the preserve of a few and wasn’t filtering down to the masses.

My knowledge of the clerical abuse scandal suggests that while we now know there was clearly some level of awareness among Church leaders of a problem, there was limited concrete knowledge of paedophile recidivism and the damage caused to victims.

My current thinking which is always open to re-evaluation suggests that the clerical abuse crisis represents the beginning of an evolutionary type jump forward in our understanding of child sexual abuse. The world is entering a new level of consciousness about an ancient human problem through the door of clerical abuse.

This position is supported by the evidence currently available which indicates that clerical abuse represents somewhere in the region of 5% of an overall human problem. It is also supported by the fact that the civil authorities are currently bringing forth substantial legislation (and a recent referendum) which are undoubtedly a response to revelations of child sexual abuse in recent decades. It begs the question; why didn’t the civil authorities bring forth such legislation 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 years ago? I think the answer is; because 20 years ago we hadn’t reached the necessary collective point of awareness. We just hadn’t reached sufficient knowledge. We’re reaching that point now and it’s largely through the door of clerical abuse that the world is now entering this new level of human consciousness. However, beyond the door is an unknown – but I think most of us fear it’s a mirror image of the dynamics of clerical abuse. Study the Savile case as it unfolds; even at this early stage the same essential pattern is already evident.

Finally, surely you will agree that it is stretching human reason to argue that our current level of awareness already existed in 309AD. Taken to its logical conclusion such an argument goes a good way to denying the development of human knowledge – at least in this particular area!


The following was first published in The Irish Catholic newspaper as CHURCH IS HOLDING A MIRROR UP TO SOCIETY, September 15 2011. At the time it caused quite a storm!



I believe the Catholic Church, in terms of its failure to deal with abuse, is a mirror image of the problem in Irish society generally, a society in which far too many among my circle of friends suffered childhood abuse. One was abused by a Christian brother, by an uncle, by the family GP, and suffered the horror of rape during her teenage years. That’s just a single victim. How many victims are out there? Will we ever know? Another suffered years of abuse at the hands of other family members and having informed her mother was told that she should be happy they found her so interesting (or words to that effect). If you find it uncomfortable reading this, I find it uncomfortable writing it! Now factor in mandatory reporting and the “reasonable excuse” opt out clause in the proposed legislation and it gets even more uncomfortable. I do not envy the Government’s task. Here I stand, a single solitary man, surrounded by survivors of abuse, a microcosm of the full truth about child abuse, rape and torture in Ireland. I suspect I’m just one of tens of thousands. Who really knows? This is the Republic of Ireland 2011.

In exposing abuse within the Catholic Church we have opened the door to hell and stepped inside the front porch, and standing there in horror some have dared to peer further, into the hallway and reception areas of a very dark and unexplored house. A small number of victims have exited from deep inside the house but it’s a relatively small number. Will we ever be able to get beyond the front porch? This question must surely be forcing its way into the mind of every thinking Irish citizen, at least every thinking citizen with a gram of street credibility. The victims of clerical abuse are the outer circles of concentric circles.

In time I believe Ireland will discover that there is nothing particularly unique in the Catholic bishop’s bungling attempts to deal with clerical abuse. We are perfectly right to be outraged but there is still nothing unique in the bishop’s failure and there is nothing particularly unique in the bishop’s cover up. In fact, I believe that covering up is a typical response to child abuse right across the board, at least until very recently. Few can accept my next point and of course it’s so politically incorrect to make the point, but there is another category of people that will match the failure of the bishops, and probably surpass it; mothers who failed to deal with the abuse of their children within the basic family unit, abuse perpetrated by their husbands – or by the male partner within the basic family unit. A multitude of people are implicated in this cover-up. I believe it’s a significant percentage of the population. Nobody in this once-sovereign democratic republic wants to hear this. The issue of child abuse in Ireland is big, and the Catholic Church is a tree in the forest, as the insect is to the camel. Reporting (or rather the failure to report) remains a serious issue but even as it stands responding is an even greater issue. Clearly, we don’t have the capacity to respond. What’ll it be like if the truth begins to surface? The real question is; do we want the full truth of child abuse in Ireland to surface? Perhaps life will be considerably easier if we can keep it a Catholic Church problem, but life is never that easy!

This is the unexplored house, rooms locked and sealed up tightly, the curtains drawn. There’s been no light in these rooms for decades. This is the stuff that will rip Irish society apart. Can we ever go there? Can we ever really expect to get past the front porch? I’m not so sure, and it terrifies me, but for the sake of the victims I hope this new “democracy where humanity, power, rights, responsibility are enshrined and enacted” can be mature enough, and brave enough to find a way to help these survivors exit that very dark house. It will take more than mandatory reporting.

Let me conclude by adapting the words of the Taoiseach: there is no shortage of dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism in the Republic of Ireland 2011, where the rape and torture of children are downplayed or managed to uphold instead, the primacy of the family, the family name, its power standing and reputation, and where multitudes living in our midst have turned a blind eye; not my business!

We don’t know it yet, or perhaps we don’t want to know it, but in terms of child abuse the Catholic Church is holding up a mirror to Irish society.

It’s time to take a good hard look at ourselves, and having done that, to back the Government’s attempts to deal with this issue effectively; this is not the time for half-measures or for cowardice. This time Enda Kenny has got to go all the way, and all the way is much closer than the Vatican!


Fiona Doyle’s daughter speaking to Pat Kenny, RTE Radio 1, January 25th 2013.

“My granny would cover for my grand-dad … granny covered it up … people obviously believe that a mother wouldn’t cover that up, and she did. My granny did cover that up”