A man yesterday recalled how he rejected the pleas of his mother on her deathbed to hold her hand due to the anger he felt at being sexually assaulted by a former member of a religious order.
Due to the abuse, he started to regard his mother as his enemy because she was a strict Catholic and clerics were almost living deities to her, Limerick Circuit Court heard.
Chilling details of the devastation wreaked on the lives of six men due to continued sexual abuse waged on them by the cleric primary school teacher were recounted at the sentencing hearing yesterday.
The former teacher, who is now 73, and who cannot be named for legal reasons, was last month found guilty at Limerick Circuit Court of 30 charges of indecently assaulting six boys. The jury failed to agree on 42 charges in relation to seven other boys. The charges related to dates between September 1978 and June 1981.
Evidence was given by 13 former students over nine days, including how the teacher would walk through the aisles of the classroom, approach boys individually at different times and place his hands inside their pants and feel their genital area. He also placed his hands on the boys’ buttocks. In one case, he forcibly kissed a boy in a corridor.
Yesterday, Judge John Hannan said the assaults followed a systemic pattern of being brazen and arrogant in their execution, and the former teacher showed no inference of remorse, apology, or regret.
Judge Hannan added: “He was a teacher, a man in his mid to late-30s, and an educated man of the cloth, and as such, should have known where his moral compass should have been pointed.
“Many people were on pedestals at the time, and the Church was right up there with them.”
He said the respect for the religious back in those years was far greater than it is today.
“School should have been fun back then and there is no reason that it should not have been,” he said. “I know it wasn’t. It wasn’t, because of the manner in which schools were run and people were allowed exercise power over children and it was so wrong.”
One of the former schoolboys, now 48, said in his victim impact evidence that everyday life had become a struggle, and an attempted suicide was a seminal moment. From the age of 11, when the abuse started, he felt broken. As his abuser sat just feet away from him in court, the victim said: “His reign of terror and my shame and humiliation imposed an omerta upon me which lasted almost 30 years.”
He said the most immediate effect the abuse had on him was in his relationship with his mother.
He said: “She was a strict Catholic, and clerics to her were almost living deities. I directed all the anger I felt towards [the accused] onto my mother. She was my enemy and I withdrew totally from any sort of relationships with her. Our only interaction was one of conflict and I could not bear to be around my mother. When she was on her deathbed in pain, she pleaded with me to hold her hand. I could not bring myself to do it.”
As sexual intimacy was difficult for him, he had many failed relationships. He only sought counselling when his marriage reached breaking point. It was then he found he was suffering from post-traumatic stress due to the abuse.
Victim impact statements were read out on behalf of the other former abused schoolboys by John O’Sullivan, prosecuting. One told of having a nervous breakdown and struggles with mental illness; another said his life changed for ever the day he entered the teacher’s classroom.
One said he now has a son, the same age he was when abused, and he can never allow him to be looked after by a babysitter or see him going on sleep-overs, due to the way his trust had been broken by his abuser.
Judge Hannan said the accused had served four and a half years in prison previously, when he was remanded on charges of which he was subsequently found not guilty. He said it would be unjust not to factor this into the sentence.
Judge Hannan said the maximum penalty for each of the charges was two years. This was the maximum penalty at the time of the offences and this was the tariff he had to adhere to under law.
He imposed a 40 month sentence, with the final 20 months suspended.
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