Gardaí have sent 13 files to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) after investigating allegations made in 130 complaints about clerical sexual abuse within the Spiritan Order, formerly Holy Ghost Fathers.
Revelations of child abuse in the Spiritan-run Blackrock College, Dublin, and its junior school, Willow Park, last November led to a wave of disclosures from other survivors of historical abuse in fee-paying boarding schools. In the wake of the scandal the Government commissioned a scoping inquiry earlier this year into the past abuse in day and boarding schools run by religious orders.
The controversy has seen a marked increase in civil cases for compensation being taken in the High Court by alleged abuse survivors against the Spiritans – also known as the Holy Ghost Fathers – and other religious orders who ran boarding schools. More recently, an extensive criminal inquiry has also been under way.
In reply to queries, Garda Headquarters said “130 contacts” were made with the force, mostly from victims but also from people reporting on behalf of victims.
The Garda appointed the Sexual Crime Management Unit at the Garda National Protective Services Bureau as a “central point of contact” for those making complaints, or raising concerns, about former members of the Spiritan Order.
In addition to Blackrock College and Willow Park, where much of the abuse occurred, the Spiritans also run St Michael’s College, St Mary’s College and Templeogue College in Dublin, as well as Rockwell College in Co Tipperary.
“An assessment was carried out in respect of each individual contact, and each contact advised as to what, if any, action could be taken by An Garda Síochána,” the Garda said.
“Investigations in relation to a significant number of victims have been completed as it has been established that the alleged suspects are deceased. Files in respect of 13 victims have been submitted to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
The DPP must now consider each file and take a number of factors into consideration before deciding whether there is sufficient evidence against alleged perpetrators to ground prosecutions against them. In cases where the abusers are deceased, or incapacitated to the extent they could not stand trial, no prosecutions will be possible.
However, in other cases, even if the abuse occurred many decades ago, the DPP can approve charges and suspects would go on trial. Furthermore, many victims have pursued successful civil cases against the religious orders whose members perpetrated decades of sexual crimes.
At the outset of the controversy, the Spiritans disclosed it had paid out €5 million in abuse claim settlements since 2004, with 12 of those relating to abuse in Blackrock College. Some 30 legal cases were filed in recent years against the Carmelites, who run Terenure College in South Dublin and previously the Carmelite College Moate, a Co Westmeath fee-paying school that closed in 1996.
The vast majority of the cases were filed between 2020 and 2023 and related to alleged child abuse by John McClean, the former Terenure College teacher and rugby coach. It is understood settlements have already been paid in a number of the legal cases. McClean is serving a lengthy prison sentence over the sexual abuse of more than 40 boys in the secondary school, following convictions in 2021 and 2023.