A survivor of abuse at a school run by the Spiritan congregation in south Dublin was told they would deny all allegations against them, force the case to a higher court and “get him” for costs.
Dr John Connolly (74) says he went to the Spiritan congregation in recent years with allegations of his abuse as a child in 1958 by the late principal Fr Robert Stanley (“Stanno”) at their Willow Park school in Blackrock.
However, Dr Connolly ended up in the Round Hall of the Four Courts in Dublin where he was told “they would not only deny everything but force it to a higher court and get me for costs [range €40,000-€80,000].”
Dr Connolly withdrew his legal action as he could not afford the financial risks involved.
When this was put to the Spritians by The Irish Times, they declined to comment. Fr Stanley died in 1995.
Almost 400 people have made abuse allegations against 78 Spiritan priests to date, with three Spiritans convicted of child abuse offences to date and two living members the subject of allegations being investigated by gardaí.
Since 2004 the congregation has settled some 80 cases with a total of about €5 million spent on settlements.
Initially, when Dr Connolly contacted the congregation, alleging “physical/psychological abuse” at Blackrock College also, there was “no acknowledgment or apology, just an offer to let me talk to a female counsellor provided by themselves”. Frustrated by this, he decided on legal action.
A retired clinical psychologist who worked with the St John of God Services and the then Eastern Health Board before entering private practice, he explained how it was 2015 before the full import of his alleged abuse at Willow Park and Blackrock College hit him.
“A family trauma in 2015 triggered suppressed memories of this abuse. It exploded in my mind,” he said. Following consultation with a psychiatrist, he decided to contact the Spiritans, seeking an apology and restitution.
When neither was forthcoming he initiated legal action which ended when “my barrister and theirs consulted” in the Round Hall of the Four Courts.
In the end there was no apology, no care to restitute, nothing to mark the loss of part of one’s being
Dr Connolly recalled being disciplined at Willow Park by Fr Stanley, where he said the priest fondled his private parts.
Dr Connolly said he “wriggled, squirmed and fought to get away”, with the pair “gasping, pulling and pushing” until finally the priest “growled and grabbed him like a bear, throwing him away”.
The priest directed him down a side corridor to an empty classroom. He told the child to take his trousers down for “12 of the best. On your bottom.” Terrified, the boy began to urinate and the “hugely angry” priest ordered him to clean himself up in the toilets, before walking him back to his classroom.
Dr Connolly says there was “no question” that he could ever mention the incident “to parents, or teachers, or siblings, or pals”.
At Blackrock College he recalled incidents of physical abuse and emotional humiliation. He said he could not wait to leave.
When he decided to seek an apology from the Spiritans, their representative was “kindly but obdurate: there can be no apology – for what? – and no restitution”. Following consultation with his psychiatrist Dr Connolly engaged a solicitor and barrister. In the end there was “no apology, no care to restitute, nothing to mark the loss of part of one’s being,” he said.
Commenting on all of this Dr Connolly said the man he is now “can take this” but “the boy is distraught, hurt, and cannot understand such wickedness, such denying, such distancing from their God”.
He will continue to seek that “his plundered soul be restituted, that they apologise” so he can “wrestle with his demons to forgive”.