The numbers of people coming forward with accusations of abuse carried out by members of the Spiritan order at Dublin’s Blackrock College are “frightening”, says the former archbishop of Dublin.
Diarmuid Martin said he could not understand how so many “horrendous abusers were in one community at the same time”.
Dr Martin said that any subsequent inquiry into historical abuse at Spiritan-run schools should be “survivor-led” and that “victims have a right to know what decisions were taken about them”.
He was speaking on the Brendan O’Connor show on RTÉ Radio 1 on Saturday following a week that saw the Spiritan Congregation issue an apology to all victims of historical abuse.
At a press conference on Wednesday, survivors of abuse at these schools welcomed the “long overdue” apology and urged other victims to engage in the restorative justice process that has been established between victims and the Spiritans.
“Today represents public acknowledgement of the scale of the wrongs but also the start of a process that can, we believe, help victims to find succour and hope where it has been absent for too long,” survivors said.
In his apology, Fr Martin Kelly said he wanted to express his deepest and most sincere sorrow to every person abused by a member of the Spiritans, or by a staff member, in any of its schools.
“What was done to you as innocent children was cruel and indefensible,” he said. “We are deeply ashamed of these actions.”
Hundreds of former victims have come forward, and anyone else who was subjected to abuse but has not come forward yet is being urged to do so.
Speaking on RTÉ, Dr Martin said the number of cases were “frightening because they were all in the one institution and a very prestigious institution, and here were perpetrators who eat with one another, who lived with one another, who knew one another and yet I don’t know at any particular moment how many horrendous abusers lived together at any one time in that community”.
“It’s hard to fathom," he said. “Some of these men were extraordinarily violent men... Some of these people should never have been teachers and certainly they should never have been allowed to be teachers in a boarding school. On reflection boarding school is obviously a place where you need double protection.”
On the restorative justice process, Dr Martin said it may work for some people but it’s “much more useful if the perpetrator is there”.
He said that “immediate alarm bells should have rung” if parents approached the school with complaints.
Dr Martin said he never left a meeting with a survivor without feeling shattered and angry.
“No matter how professionally successful survivors go on to be, they are people who are marked for their entire lives by what happened to them as children,” he said.