The Cloyne report – a few thoughts.

I delayed writing todays post until some of the dust could settle after yesterdays release of the report into child sex abuse in the Cloyne diocese.  This report is one, which has a great impact on me personally.  You see I grew up in that diocese.  I can be absolutely certain that I knew at least one of the priests it refers directly to.  And I believe, strongly believe that it may have missed something crucially important in their investigation.

So to start at the beginning.  While I grew up in the Cloyne diocese and attended a Catholic run school, I of course had massive exposure to the local priesthood and occasional exposure to Bishop Magee.  While the priests by in large were a less than memorable casting call of insignificant men, Bishop Magee seemed, to me at least, to be precisely what a bishop should be.  He seemed to be well read, erudite, incredibly intelligent, charming, compassionate and above all a man with a real connection to his flock.  Well as it turns out  I was mostly right.  Though you would have to remove compassionate and connected, while adding the descriptions cowardly and lying, to that list after yesterdays revelations.

I often think that most of the kids and teenagers in my hometown, had some idea that there was a lot of child abuse happening.  There were a lot of very, messed up young people around us.  But for myself I didn’t have some idea, I knew for certain.  After all I was being abused myself.

I’m not going to go into detail on what happened.  To be clear though, it was the worst thing that ever happened to me.  I changed me forever.  And despite my not being abused by a priest, it has cemented my thinking on this subject.  Why?  Well because one of my abusers was one of those specially chosen lay-people who are called on by the church in their locality to perform specific acts.  Acts such as presenting the Host to the faithful at Mass.

This is where I believe that the Cloyne report may well have missed something.  Not acts by priests but acts of abuse perpetrated by senior members of the laity covered up by abusive priests.

I’ll tell a little story to illustrate.

One of the men who abused me was a primary school teacher, a senior leader in what used to be the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and as I said a layperson who at Mass would give the Host to the congregation.  The latter being an act typically performed by a priest.  He was immensely well-regarded and respected in the local community.  He had also been actively abusing young boys for decades.

One Summer while on camp in West Cork with the scouts, he took myself and five other scouts out to set up some event for later in the day.  On the way back we all dropped by a former senior priest from my home town.  I remember that priest very well, you see he had the most beautiful, gentle and affectionate pedigree Dalmatian.  The dog was adored by most of the children in the town, the priest was widely suspected of interfering with children by the adults.  Over the course of an hour I saw a very close friendship between the man who was abusing me, and a priest whose true identity I am certain, absolutely certain is shrouded under a pseudonym in the Cloyne Report.

In the end the man who was abusing me was eventually caught when he raped a young boy with Down Syndrome, on the grounds of the primary school my brother and I were educated in and went on to serve prison time as a result.   I was never psychologically able to bring forward a case, but we’ll get to that another time.  But the day he was finally imprisoned I cried for hours with relief, you see up until that day I was scared to leave my home most of the time.  In case I would see him.

He was found guilty and imprisoned, during and after the court case, it was widely known that after a police investigation there were dozens of complaints against him.  There was absolutely no doubt as to his guilt.  And yet, during the case, the principal of the primary school, a Christian Brother, and at least one priest of the parish would go on to give testimony applauding his character.

What I fear most from the Cloyne report is not what is now known, it’s what may have been missed in the investigators, completely understandable, tunnel vision.  You see that day in West Cork I learned something important about human beings in general and pedophiles in particular.

Human beings create communities, it’s our great strength as a species.  However, as we all know well from the numberous reports of pedophile rings, they also form communities.  And those communities will usually go to extreme lengths, to protect their own.  So I sit here sickened by the acts of these men, these would be leaders of their faithful, and terrified by that prospect that these abusers may well have hidden the heinous acts of others like themselves, who were not men of the cloth.

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