|Father Brendan Smyth - abuser of over one hundred children |
in Belfast, Dublin and America. He died in Curragh Prison, Kildare in 1997
Perhaps I was just lucky but I come from a family in which there was no abuse - well certainly no sexual abuse and if, as boys, my brothers and I received any physical chastisement it was probably because we had earned it. And I was a choirboy in the village church with a choirmaster and the local vicar often in attendance but they were happily married men and didn't abuse me. In fact, back then I had absolutely no idea that there was such a thing as child sex abuse. I must have been fourteen years old before I heard about this secret aspect of human behaviour and even then I could hardly believe it. Such a thing seemed as believable as "Desperate Dan" in the "Dandy" tucking into his giant cow pies - with horns sticking through the pastry lid.
Though personally I eschew religion of all varieties, I would have thought that men who dedicated their lives to a particular church or creed would have done so with a holy sense of vocation. There would be reverence for their particular deity and a quest for moral goodness in daily living. If there's anybody you should be able to trust it should - theoretically at least - be a man of God. And yet...and yet...all these stories continue to come out - especially surrounding Roman Catholic priests. We're not just talking about a handful of priests whose wicked sexual abuse of children has now been unearthed but literally thousands. The Holy See, the central governing body of the Catholic Church, has "considered sex abuse allegations concerning about 3,000 priests dating back up to 50 years" according to the Vatican's Promoter of Justice. The words "iceberg" and "tip" spring to mind.
Sexual abuse by Catholic priests has happened in just about every country on the planet where the tentacles of this mammoth organisation have spread but the most noteworthy legal investigations have happened in the developed world - USA, Great Britain, The Republic of Ireland, Canada, Australia, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Norway. Heaven knows what priests have done in South America, the Philippines, Africa. You almost have the sense that part of a priest's training must have concerned the conduct of surreptitious sexual abuse of children and how to exploit your power as a priest to achieve sexual gratification. So widespread has been this terrible, cruel and selfish behaviour.
As a secondary school teacher, I learnt never to touch children and if alone in a classroom with a child I made sure that there was a colleague very close by or actually in the room with us. My job and income were at stake. The idea of hitting a child in anger seemed like an admission of failure to me. As well as sexual abuse, thousands of Catholic priests (and nuns) involved in teaching were guilty of cruel physical and psychological abuse. They belted or belittled children, made them shiver in the cold, punished them with unsuitable physical work. This behaviour hasn't made the headlines as much as the sexual abuse cases but physical and psychological torment can mark people for life as much as illicit sexual activity.
In these awful matters, I am sure we are talking about the minority of Catholic priests and I am equally sure that many thousands of priests have been kindly, wise and holy men who have lived blameless lives of service. Even so many of them will have been party to the cult of secrecy that continues to surround accusations of sexual abuse made towards particular priests.
Sexual abuse of minors is not the exclusive domain of the Roman Catholic Church. Rabbis, Buddhist monks, Church of England vicars and even Muslim immams have all been outed and brought to justice. In Swindon, Wiltshire for example - Immam Ebrahim Yusuf Kazi abused young girls in his charge over twenty seven years and was jailed in 2011 for a paltry two years as women he had wickedly abused wept openly in the court.
That's the trouble with child sexual abuse. It lives with victims forever. It affects their daily lives and their relationships. It's there when they go to sleep at night and because it has happened to them it can conceivably turn them into abusers too. It is more than likely that a victim of childhood sexual abuse will be reading this blogpost. I can only begin to imagine what it did to you my friend but through this blog I would like to give you a huge non-sexual hug and reassure you that it wasn't your fault. No way.