Dear people: it's time you stood up for abused like me


THE AUTHOR of this article, a victim of clerical sex abuse, wrote to the Editor seeking to ask questions of the people of Ireland. In the course of her letter to the Editor, she explained why she wished to remain anonymous, something not allowed on the Letters page.

The author explained her reasons thus:

“The reason I do not wish to give my address is simply that as a victim of clerical sexual abuse it has been very important for me to retain my privacy, having had it violated many years ago. There is no real right of privacy when, as a young person, you are interfered with, exposed in secrecy time and time again.

“For 25 years I lived with the fallout of my abuse, burying it deep within myself while it ate away, impacting on my ‘self’, my mental and physical wellbeing, my family life, my education, my relationship, and my future. When I came to find the strength to face it full on and deal with it in all aspects of my life, it was clear that I had to do the one thing that I had avoided for years: pay attention to myself, put myself centre stage, and work through the hell.

“From the time of my abuse I had projected myself into standing up for others’ rights, on an individual and collective basis, in Ireland and overseas. While this served others very well and at the time was good for me, it was clear when I was ready to face my own reality that the one thing I needed to do was pay full attention to myself, and not distract myself from this task by going public and getting involved with the ‘issue’.

“It was extremely important for this purpose that I keep my privacy; work my painful counselling through, week in, week out, to bring myself to a place that was good for me. This decision was hard for me to fulfil, it did not sit naturally with me and left me repeatedly feeling that I was letting others down, lacking courage to stand up and be counted.

“When I made my first step in approaching the church, they immediately violated my privacy, and this almost pushed me in to a deeper inner retreat than before. That experience taught me that in dealing with the abuse, to repair myself, I had to at all costs protect myself, circle the wagons, and trust no one outside a small circle who equally wanted to protect me.

“Every time I watched brave people like Marie Collins, Colm O’Gorman or Andrew Madden, I struggled within myself to take the step and speak out, knowing that I too could be articulate in challenging the hierarchy, the State and even use my journalist connections to push the agenda. But I stuck with what I needed to do, having for a decade put absolute energy into my counselling and all it unearthed.

“Finally I reached that powerful place of finding closure, and almost four decades later, to being alive.

“So why now do I want to speak out?

“Simply, I can’t stand any longer to watch the dishonesty, the inadequacy, the hypocrisy, and the mistruths being repeated time and time again, and good people like Marie Collins let down. I have asked myself the question: ‘What do I care now if people know my story, what does it matter?’

“But it does. Why should I have to expose myself when I was so wrongly exposed all those years ago? The experience of the abuse has impacted badly on my relationship with my family, contributed to the lack of trust in my own family; why should I have to do anything?

“Yet there are things as a victim, that everyone says they want to listen to, [that] I want to say to the population of Ireland, questions I want to ask, so that people at least listen and consider my views, my feelings in this whole matter.”

The identity of this writer is known to the Editor. The following is what she wanted to say to the people of Ireland:

Dear people,

As a victim of clerical sexual abuse, who up to now has stayed silent publicly on the subject, I ask you now to consider a couple of things. I ask you to do this because since the Murphy report was published, time and time again it is expressed that “people” want to support victims, hear what they have to say.

There is no need for me to share my story, you have heard it all from others, and can read it again and again if you wish in records such as the Murphy report.

As a victim I have the following question to ask you.

I choose as a victim to keep my abuse private. This was essential to my healing, but difficult for me, as I repeatedly felt that I let other victims who spoke out down. It was to my horror, some days after the publication of Murphy report, to hear Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey declare that he hoped the report would assist “other victims” to come forward. How dare a public representative, representing you, put the burden and responsibility on me? I have had to deal with enough for decades of my life.

What are you – you, the people of Ireland – what are you waiting for, when you have enough information, detail, human expression of the horror, of pain and suffering? What would make you stand up and be counted – rather than want people like me, victims, to stand up and be counted?

Where is your demonstration supporting me? Where are the marches, the protests, the physical demonstration that the organisation that aided and abetted the abusers is no longer supported by you?

Last year, the pensioners of Ireland protested when the threat of their medical card status was attacked. Equally, workers across the country protest when their livelihood is threatened. That’s democracy, something long fought for. Having worked in countries where such rights are lacking and where those seeking them are dealt with brutally, I appreciate democratic freedoms, regardless of whether I agree with the views expressed.

So where are the marches, where are the pickets outside churches, where are the cries to declare an organisation that individually and collectively abused children, and has demonstrated incompetence in governance – where are the cries to declare this unlawful?

I have waited over two weeks to hear the State, the public, speak out in real words, rather than utter platitudes. Today, what do I wake up to and repeatedly hear on every news bulletin? Requests by Bishop Donal Murray for prayers for him . . .

Am I asking too much? That is for people to consider and decide. I am merely asking that people physically demonstrate their support for me as a victim – demonstrate that they are prepared to sacrifice their needs for a short time to consider mine.

I can explain this in a simple example. For a decade I addressed my experience of abuse by in-depth counselling, exploring the horrors of my experience and the horrors of its impact on my life. When I came to a place of “closure”, for me the reality was that I needed to face my abuser, and through Archbishop Diarmuid Martin sought to achieve this.

It is no surprise that my abuser refused, and so I had to accept this – for my sake, the sake of my partner and those I love and those I am loved by – and move on. But the experience of “moving on” is not without cost.

I was christened a Catholic, and spent my childhood and adolescent life deep in Catholic practice. My experience completely violated that and my experience of the hypocrisy and violation of my rights, both then and every step through my recovery in the past decade, means for me that my faith in Catholicism is gone.

Yet all my family and many of my friends have remained Catholics – something that I accept but that is a struggle for me. Because I respect people and individual rights, I respect their decisions.

Ireland remains entrenched in Catholic practice, and so every time a relative or friend (rightly) wishes to acknowledge their faith through public expression, such as children’s christenings, first Holy Communion, Mass for the dead, weddings and the like, I am faced with the dilemma that either I exclude myself from their celebration or overcome my own feelings of discomfort and attend their choice of celebration to show them respect.

This may seem easy, but on a personal level, it means sometimes that I am there in a church (the place where a considerable amount of my abuse occurred), facing representatives of the clerical organisation that abused me, managing rising panic attacks, trying not to let my physical and emotional discomfort show.

It is my choice to deal with these situations and therefore accept any pain or discomfort I experience. But I ask that the people of Ireland now show me, as a victim, equal respect and support.

I do not ask anyone to abandon their practice of Catholic faith, I am merely asking the people of Ireland to demonstrate a protest to the Catholic Church in Ireland and to Rome, which governs it all. I ask the people of Ireland to choose to demonstrate their feelings to me and all victims in Ireland by:

  • Protesting for one week outside churches in Ireland when services are on.
  • Withdrawing funding from an organisation that, in Irish terms, has been responsible for an “Irish holocaust” of physical and mental abuse of hundreds of children, as children and beyond into their adult lives.
  • Outlawing (proscribing) the Catholic organisation until such time as it (like other organisations which we have banned during our history) demonstrates that it has fully reformed itself.
  • Requiring the church to publish the list of churches and timeframes where and when abuse occurred (those listed in the reports and those not listed, ie outside the sample of cases).
  • Forcing the Government truly to separate State and church through requiring Catholic clergy, and the religious, to resign from school boards/management, hospital boards/management, health services boards/management, etc.
  • Requiring any public servant who has expressed support – through inaction or through words of bureaucratic mumble-jumble – for the Catholic hierarchy, or the papal nuncio, to resign.
  • Requiring clerics in positions of governance who failed to act appropriately to resign rather than hide behind word games of “reflection”, “mental reservation” and such utterances, insulting to victims such as myself.

As a child I was powerless in the face of my abuser. As an adult victim, I am now required to have strength, to stand up and be counted, to come forward (as Noel Dempsey asked), to understand the nuances of diplomatic procedure (as Brian Cowen asked) to . . .

When will it stop for me and others?

When will the people of Ireland stand up for me and others?

When will it be over for me and for others – and unfortunately for others who have yet to come? Everything tells me that nothing has changed, that it can still happen. That it is still happening.