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Willow Park abuse survivor met ‘vacuum of silence and distaste’ after 1992 revelation

‘Quasi-sacramental’ abuse involved three priests with two wearing green and gold stoles

It was the secret that existed in plain sight. Now aged 60, artist and psychotherapist Chris Doris spoke about the abuse he suffered involving two priests and a religious brother at Willow Park school in Dublin in a television programme 30 years ago.

In the Would You Believe documentary, shown on RTÉ in 1992, Doris was interviewed on the theme of art and spirituality after he had organised an exhibition to help victims of the famine that was then under way in Somalia.

In it, he spoke about being abused in Willow Park, which he attended until 1975: “It was brief but explosive.” Before the programme was broadcast he was told its religious adviser had warned he would “want to be very sure about the assertions” because of a danger that he could face legal action.

The programme was broadcast with his allegation, but, in truth, nobody cared: “It was like a flare going up into the dark for me and just landing in the dark. And nothing, nothing really. A few close people thought it was courageous and well done, but...

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“I remember watching it with my parents,” he says now, recalling how his mother had praised his contribution about the famine exhibition but wondered if he “really had to say that” about the abuse allegations. “That feeling was common,” he says.

The Ireland of the early 1990s was still one where the power of the Catholic Church was not just based on it imposing its authority; it was an authority that a majority of the public in the State “also bought into”.

“It mattered a lot. My parents were really devout and it gave them a lot in their lives. So it’s complicated. It’s not just about the church exerting power,” says Doris.

As a child he was abused up to the age of nine even before attending Willow Park school in the 1970s. As a result, “I tried to heal myself of the trauma and pain by developing a ritual of getting up very early before school,” he says.

“[Back then] there were a lot less cars about, [so I’d walk] down the mid-line of Mount Merrion Avenue seeing if I could get all the way to Blackrock.

“It was like an attempt to make the world clean and pure again and create a new pathway for myself, I think,” he says. His ritual meant that he often arrived at the school before it opened for the day.

Sometimes, he went to the chapel: “Little did I know I was walking into such danger. Br Luke [McCaffrey] quite often would open the door in the morning and he was one of three who abused me.”

Today, he says “the young part of me” feels vindicated when he reads the biographies of the now publicly identified abusers at Willow Park: “I just really felt vindicated by seeing it in black and white. Acknowledgment is so important in terms of healing.”

One of his abusers, Fr Aloysius Flood, with “his shiny suits and his long black hair and his fondness for polo necks”, taught religion and science, where Doris tried to placate him by spending hours on illustrations for his study notebooks.

He still remembers the worst of the abuse, where Flood and another priest “both wearing stoles” had drugged him with “something like chloroform” before Flood orally raped him “in a quasi-sacramental way with his penis being the host”.

Last week, another ex-Willow Park pupil told Doris of how he had been orally raped in the same way by Flood, with the second priest worrying near the end of the abuse that the boy would remember seeing the two of them together. Flood declared, “He won’t remember.”

Each instance of abuse by Flood left him feeling like he had been “beaten with baseball bats” for weeks afterwards. The last abuse took place in a bathroom after he was cut by a sliding tackle in a match, where Flood commented on how he was “coming along, physically”.

Once he pinned me to a cast iron radiator, front ways, and simulated anal rape, between classes

The memories of the abuse in the school’s tuck shop inflicted by his most frequent abuser, Br Luke McCaffrey, are both “very clear”, but also “very fragmented”, he says: “It’s awful. It’s hard to say how many times but I imagine, approaching 10 times.

“The smell of muskiness is part of it as well, and sweat and stuff. At the end of whatever he did, he would always give you, which I thought a really odd thing, two stale Marietta [biscuits] and an over-ripe banana,” he remembers.

His third abuser, Fr Senan Corry, was different: “He was demented. The word with the boys was that he had suffered from malaria on the missions and that was why he was the way he was, but he was completely dysfunctional.

“He’d fly off the handle. If you missed a tackle on the rugby pitch he’d be screaming from the touchline ‘you funk, you funk’. He was less devious and less considered than Flood in particular,” Doris goes on.

“I remember him throwing the heavy wooden duster with its sharp edges full force into the rows of students, with anger. Once he pinned me to a cast iron radiator, front ways, and simulated anal rape, between classes.”

Once, “in the middle of class – you know the old desks with the inkwell and the wooden part and then the bars that go underneath on the back seat – one time he got down on one knee, put his arm around my shoulder and was essentially f***king the bar of the seat in a quiet class”, he says.

The abuse stopped when he was 13, but Doris was by then “in bits”, he says. He was captain of the school’s under-13s rugby team, top of the class, “but the strain was showing” and he showed sign of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Just before his summer exams at the end of his time in Willow Park, his brother, who was six years older, died by suicide in the Netherlands on the eve of his 19th birthday, which their sister is now convinced was a result of abuse at that school too.

Today, their sister “is part of a WhatsApp group that has been set up for the Sion Hill girls who knew the Rock lads. She’s furious, as they all are. They can see the damage in the lives of the lads they knew and now they know why.”

Their deceased brother was “nearly killed in a semi-final in rugby against Terenure in Lansdowne Road, with concussion”, where their parents were told that “the next 12 hours would determine whether he lived or not”.

He was “on the junior team at 13, and I was on the junior team the next year. Both years we reached the cup final and were defeated by the ingenuity and cleverness of their [Terenure College] coach who was revealed recently to have been a paedophile.”

In February 2021 that coach, John McClean, was sentenced to eight years in prison, after pleading guilty to charges of indecently assaulting 23 pupils at Terenure College between 1973 and 1990. Last August he was charged with a further 49 counts of indecent assault.

“He was such a clever coach. I mean we were always a better team. When I heard what he had done… he was manipulative and smart and destructive as the coach.”

Doris says by then he was “not able to hold it together academically, or in rugby” when he later transferred to Willow Park’s senior school, Blackrock College: “While injuries ended the rugby career, I think that I just wasn’t really able to continue.”

The summer of 1976 was a “really beautiful summer, I was in bed from the day we got our holidays till the day we went back to school with jaundice, and I think it was a direct relationship to the strain and stress on the body”.

“I’ve had to be absent from a lot of things in my life at various times because of this. I’ve missed weddings and funerals. I just feel like saying ‘sorry’ to all the people who I love, for not being there as consistently as I would have wished to be and say that ‘I’m back, I’m back’...”

Fortunately, he took up art in his latter years in Blackrock: “Art has been indispensable in terms of healing and allowing me the flexibility I needed because of dealing with the after-effects of all of this, which is largely resolved now. I’ve been very lucky.”

Nevertheless, it has taken “probably” 800 therapy sessions. Today, he considers himself “self-healed, pretty free of it”, helped by a strong relationship with his wife, friend and partner of 40 years, Rachel.

Together since they were 16, he says: “She’s a very light and innocent person, and she’s been a psychotherapist for nearly 40 years. Little did she know what she was getting into and it’s been very difficult.”

They had decided to send their two sons to another secondary school in Dublin but their eldest lad was “really unhappy” there. Both wanted to go to Blackrock College. “The clerics were largely gone by then and they actually had a really great time there. It felt safe. They loved it.”

Internalisation is where the child comes to believe the abuse they suffered now defines them, where the experience is that this is me

In his psychotherapy work, Doris often gives a copy of The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, which shows how trauma devastates the victim, but also their partners and future generations.

Trauma is pervasive, he says. The “ground floor” for healing is the body’s nervous system. Children’s “fight or flight” response is activated, and then overwhelmed by abuse, leaving them immobilised.

“This is equivalent to a deer that’s being pursued by a lion and the lion is about to catch it, it will play dead. It’s a very different state of activation to the first two, extremely difficult to work with. It is like a nuclear bomb in your body,” he says.

Victims are left with a phantom quality to their whole existence, he says: “You’re not really there and then you’re not fully there for relationships either. A lot of people will withdraw from relationships.”

Some will isolate themselves from other people to avoid getting hurt. Others will overwork to generate a sense of safety and worthiness. Others will become addicts. “Again, it’s a way of self-medicating, drinking, to manage.

“Healing requires help on many levels, but those affected must come to terms with many feelings. Some are beyond naming they are so awful. One of the hardest ones to work with is shame,” he says.

Immobilisation happens as “the last form of protection”, he says: “It’s a biological experience but it feels like shame, profound ineffable shame. I think that’s the most profound level and then above that there’s the shame of having been unable to protect yourself.”

The “most tragic one”, internalisation, however, is where the child comes to believe the abuse they suffered now defines them, where the experience is that this is me. There’s no separation from the act. So a big part of healing is gradually, gradually separating [from that].”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times