FERGUS FINLAY: My friend was sexually abused in childhood by a priest. I never knew

“I am 8 years old

My cassock and surplice

Unfolded in my Quinnsworth bag

Swing by my side.

The handles twisted tight

Turning my fingers blue

I am waiting for him to come.

I am waiting for him to collect me.”

That's the start of a poem written by Patrick Bolger. He’s one of the most talented photographers and visual artists in Ireland.

I’m proud he is my friend. When he was a child, he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest.

Tom Naughton, Fr Thomas Naughton, to give him his full title, occupies 15 pages, and a full chapter, in the Murphy Report.

The Murphy Report, as you’ll remember, deals with the cover-up of abuse by the Dublin diocese of the Catholic Church.

Naughton pleaded guilty to sex abuse of a child, and served six months in jail. He had been an abuser of children for nearly a quarter of a century, transferred from parish to parish by bishops and auxiliary bishops, who knew he was dangerous, or who were too pathetic to know.

Bishop Donal Murray told the Murphy Commission that, despite numerous complaints being made to him, “It is a matter of the greatest regret to me that I did not manage, at that time, to get to the root of the problem”.

When it was suggested to Naughton that the bishop had confronted him about an allegation of abuse, Naughton’s reply was that the bishop had told him it was nothing to worry about and that “cranks often make allegations”.

In Patrick Bolger’s words, Naughton was the first secret of Valleymount. Valleymount is a small town in Wicklow, part of the Blessington lakes, and one of the first places in Ireland where Naughton preyed on children.

He was assigned there in the early 1980s. When the authorities couldn’t withstand the complaints, they sent him to Donneycarney.

When the abuse continued, they moved him to Ringsend. Nobody could make this stuff up. (By the way, Garret Fitzgerald was taoiseach then, and I worked for his government.

I’m telling you that so you’ll remember this wasn’t in the dim and distant past.) Why was it possible to move abusers around in modern Ireland? In his poem, Bolger gives the answer — the second secret of Valleymount.

“The second secret of Valleymount.

It was never a secret.

Fathers knew.

Mothers knew.

The waters rippled to the secret truth.

It was not meant to be known.

It was not meant to be known.”

But it became known eventually.

“The parish priest was asked to move him by the local Garda.

The Bishop was informed.

(Thank you Murray, Donal for doing fuck all)

And then he was gone.

But you can’t unplough a field.”

I’ve dwelt a lot on Patrick’s poem. I think it’s because I know him, and because I’m ashamed that, over all the years I worked with him, I never suspected the abuse, nor talked to Patrick about it.

But the poem is only one powerful testament in a collection of chapters by men and women who were abused as children.

These men and women don’t like to be described as either victims or survivors. They’re people, people who are still dealing, daily, with what happened to them years ago.

Their testaments are gathered together in an unforgettable book that has just been published with the support of One In Four, the organisation that supports men and women who have been abused during childhood.

You will be able to access their stories on the One in Four website soon.

The book is called, simply, I Am One In Four, and it tells eight indelible human stories, by gathering the experiences of four women and four men and assembling those experiences through words and pictures. They may have shared their stories to help each other. But, certainly, they did it to help us to understand more than we do the impact of childhood sexual violence.

As the book makes clear, there is an individual impact, a family impact, a community impact. These are adults — people in their forties – and for most of their lives they have dealt entirely on their own with the consequences of abuse.

George says:

I don’t think I’ve stopped running in my life.

Mary O says: “He knew he had that control, and that I’d be frozen in fear.”

Mary B says: “I felt very alone … I was consumed with guilt and shame.”

And she adds: “I would question who I really was … like some worthless piece of crap.”

Des still feels like a shadow within his family. Frank says “even my kids, when they were young, I wasn’t able to hug them, because of things that had happened to me …”

At the opening of the exhibition that accompanies the book (and which I hope will travel all over Ireland), Keith spoke. He was one of the participants in the group, and he spoke simply.

“I am a brother”, he said.

“I am a father, I am a husband, I am like you, I am One in Four.”

In the book, Keith tells the story of his abuse by his uncle. It’s hard to read. But there’s also a picture of Keith with a little boy, his son.

And he talks about time, “time to take a little boy by the hand, reassure him he is, and always will be, safe, that it wasn’t his fault he is never to blame, that he is loved and was always cherished. The curly-headed boy with the glasses is free to be the child again.”

In our past, children were abused with impunity because of silence, and because of respect. If it happened within the family, it had to stay within the family. If it happened at the hand of an authority figure, we bowed down in front of authority. All that’s gone now, we tell ourselves.

So why do organisations like One In Four have waiting lists?

In her foreword to the I Am One In Four book, Maeve Lewis, who runs the organisation, explains very simply why the work of the organisation is so important.

Secrecy, silence, shame. Disempowerment, humiliation, self-blame. These are the defining experiences of people who endure child sexual abuse.

It’s what makes child sexual abuse unique. You can’t injure someone in a hit-and-run, or attack someone in a brawl, and make them feel they are to blame. But the burdens carried by anyone who has been sexually abused are doubled, because they carry shame, too — it can represent half the legacy their perpetrators leave behind.

Patrick Bolger says it better than I can.

I am 45 years old.

I am you

You are me.

I am standing in your battlefield, Knee deep in the shit

And the mud

And the shame

And the guilt

And the silence.

I look into your eyes

Little boy

I look into my eyes,

We are alone.

But we are together.

Take my hand.

We will never walk apart

Again.


Related Articles

Priests denied full Catholic funeral if they die while facing sexual abuse allegations

Cloyne ex-priest sets out abuse defence in book

Pope’s leading Vatican critic blames homosexuality for abuse crisis

Church yet to pay out promised millions to abuse survivors

More in this Section

Readers' Blog: British in a fine mess of their own making

Insect apocalypse now: What does it mean for life on earth

Fine Gael just can’t get ‘posh boy’ jibe out of its head

Money decides who goes to college

More by this author

Angela’s family are home and dry, but the years in a hotel still linger

Reckless, incompetent Brexiteers make Trump look statesmanlike

What Brexit Britain really needs is a tactical genius like Joe Schmidt

Howlin may well have planted the first seeds of Labour’s recovery


Lifestyle

Personal trainers and nutritionists reveal their simple secrets to a healthier Christmas

Live the green dream and let plants take root in your home

Sleep tight, baby: A bed system you can use from birth to 10 years old

Wish List: Festive stocking choices for Christmas shoppers

More From The Irish Examiner