'Sworn to Silence' a recollectuion of the clerical abuse of a boy, reflects on blame and shame in 1970s Ireland, says Dan Buckley
BLESS me, Father, for I have sinned.
Those are the words that the Catholic Church authorities in Ireland expected of a 14-year-old boy as his response to years of abuse by paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.
“I knew that the quizzing about confession was all about me and my fault,” says Brendan Boland, now 53, in Sworn To Silence, his memoir published today.
It was three years before he plucked up the courage to tell another priest. An inquiry was quickly called in which Brendan was subjected to a barrage of questions from three priests, among them Fr John Brady — later to become primate Cardinal Seán Brady.
Sworn To Silence details the highly intrusive and inappropriate questioning that the young lad was subjected to during the meeting.
“Then I was just terrified and scared. Today I am angry, furious,” Boland writes. “Even as I am recounting this, I want to smash my fist against the bloody wall beside me.”
Smyth was later uncovered as the most notorious child abuser in the Irish Catholic Church, carrying out more than 130 sexual assaults against 40 youngsters over 20 years. He later died in jail.
Boland first fell prey to Smyth as an 11-year-old altar boy and was sexually abused by him for more than two years.
In March 1975, he found the courage to tell three local priests — including Brady — of the abuse in the hope it would prevent other children being hurt by Smyth. He knew he wasn’t the only victim, and his worst nightmare was that his sisters would be next.
Boland was left alone with his interrogators while his father was told to wait outside the room.
The questions included whether he had experienced similar sexual encounters before with another boy or a man, whether the abuse by Smyth had led him to masturbate alone, and why he had taken so long to go to confession.
Transcripts of the secret Church inquiry are revealed in the book. “I knew that the quizzing about confession was all about me and my fault,” Boland writes. The questions about masturbation seemed to have the same purpose.
“Again, I felt it put blame back on me: The blame and the shame... if I enjoyed that, well, then I must have enjoyed being assaulted by Fr Smyth.”
These questions terrified the young boy almost as much as the abuse. As he later revealed in a 2012 TV documentary, his interrogators asked: ‘Did you ever do anything like this before with another boy or man, grown man?’ He said no.
Incredibly, they pursued the theme, asking him: “If not, why not?” and whether he had an erection during the abuse. He was coyly asked: “Did seed come from your body?”
As he put it in the BBC documentary: “What kind of questions are they to ask a 14-year-old boy?”
At the end of the questioning, he was handed a bible and made to swear and sign an oath of secrecy. One of the priests came over with the bible and made him put his hand on it and say: “I, Brendan Boland, do solemnly swear that I have told the truth, the whole truth, and I will speak to no one about this meeting, only to authorised priests.” He was even forbidden to tell his father, who did not discover the truth until years later.
Then, he was told to sign the document. The other signature was that of Fr John B Brady.
The questions and his answers were taken down in handwritten notes by Fr Brady, who later had them typed up. Facsimiles of both are contained in the book.
Although Boland and his father were assured in 1975 that Smyth would be dealt with, his abuse continued.
It was not until 1994 that he was convicted of 17 counts of child sexual abuse. Three years later, he pleaded guilty to another 74 counts of abuse. Smyth died in prison in 1997, one month into a 12-year sentence.
Controversy over the State’s failure to extradite Smyth to the North brought down the Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition government in November 1994. Brady was made a cardinal and installed as Archbishop of Armagh and primate of Ireland the following month. He has since withstood calls for him to stand down.
Boland says that, in 2011, he was offered €10,000 to settle his High Court case for damages. In 2012, he settled a High Court action against the Archdiocese of Armagh, where the abuse occurred, for a sum understood to be €100,000.
He now lives in Essex in England with his wife Martina, and works as an engineer at News International.
Sworn To Silence is published by Ebury Publishing and is available in the shops and online
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