IN OCTOBER 1988, a 24-year-old married father of one was forced to flee a North Cork village just months after he woke up to find that he had been undressed by a local priest who was attempting to rape him.
While huge sympathy now abounds for abuse victims, back then Ireland was a very different place and it wasn’t just the Church but communities and gardaí who were willfully ignorant of the effects of sexual abuse. Victims who went public with such allegations were often dismissed as insane, lying or disregarded and denounced as troublemakers.
Sean (not his real name) had wanted to get two Mass cards signed when he called to Fr Calder’s house that winter’s night. Married young, Sean had been having marriage problems and the priest had been counselling him, including making offers to mind his baby daughter so the couple “could get some time to themselves”.
Fr Calder offered him a drink to “loosen him up”. The drink, he said, “looked like Ribena”.
“I thought it was brandy. It was very, very strong. Before I was even finished it though he was topping it up and saying there was ‘no way that you’re going home after two drinks. You can sleep upstairs’.”
Sean distinctly remembers eyeing his car keys up on the window board. He was feeling unnaturally tired and his hands felt like they had lost all power.
Next thing he knew, he woke to find himself upstairs in the priest’s bed.
He was naked and the priest was attempting to rape him.
“My hands wouldn’t work. My legs didn’t work. I couldn’t kick or punch him. My body felt paralysed but I raised my head and headbutted him. ‘I’ll fucking destroy you,’ I screamed.”
Sean got out of the bed and struggled to make his way down the stairs and out the door into the night. He got out to his car and then thought of the keys still sitting on the window board.
“I was yelling and shouting to give me my fucking keys,” he said.
Eventually, he gave up and fell asleep outside. When he woke up next, it was to the thud of a baton. Two local gardaí were hailing blows upon him. The priest had rung the gardaí to alert them of a crazy young man who was threatening to break into his house and assault him. The priest said he feared for his life.
In between the blows, Sean tried to tell them the truth but the claims of sexual abuse against the “poor defenceless priest” appeared to further incense them.
“I got such a hiding. I couldn’t stand up. They put me in the garda car and on the way home, stopped twice to give me another beating. My sisters were babysitting for me that night and when they opened the door, they found me lying outside.”
Sean couldn’t go to work for a week afterward and went to a solicitor for advice and then to gardaí to make a complaint against the priest and garda treatment of him.
The abuse for Sean was just the start of the nightmare. It was the treatment he received from many locals and one-time friends that savaged his self-esteem.
One night soon after the attempted rape, the victim walked into his local pub and headed over to the group of lads he normally drank with. Nobody said a word but one by one they all stood up and moved to another section of the bar.
“The only man who would talk to me in that bar was the proprietor who said straight away ‘I believe every word you’re saying’. Without him and my family, including my dad, I don’t know what I would have done,” he said.
And then there were the “so-called friends” who pulled him aside shocked at his public denunciation of the priest.
“Sean, do yourself a favour and forget all about this. You’ll only bring more shame on yourself. As a friend, think of your family,” one said. Another was less sympathetic: “What are you going on like this for? Your life is ruined in this town. Whatever you have your life is ruined.”
Sean said: “I was so angry and so hurt. I think if I hadn’t got out of Ireland, I’d have either killed myself or killed someone. I probably would have if I hadn’t left there.”
And left he did. The following autumn, Sean headed off to Britain and save for an unsuccessful stint at home in the 1990s when he made his official statement to gardaí, he’s never returned to Cork for long.
Home is now Britain, where he has a new life.
“Twenty-five years later and I’m still thinking of it. I was shunned by so many people. They didn’t believe me or they were disgusted [with] me. Since then at least two young men have come up to me and said that they too were given a strange drink and were abused. They were brought to carnivals by him. Every time I pick up a paper and read about abuse, I’m thinking if only they had believed me. How many lives would have been saved?”
Earlier this month, the Cloyne report showed how since the late 1980s, there were repeated concerns about Fr Calder supplying alcoholic drinks, which appeared to be spiked, to young adults. Six such statements were made to gardaí between 1988 and 1998. Three alleged sexual assaults followed. One file was sent to the DPP and returned without prosecution.
A Garda spokesman last night refused to comment on this story saying that other investigations were under way.
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