At twenty nine I met a wonderful man, married and had a son. But I still could not cope with life, the depression, severe anxiety and feelings of worthlessness continued. I developed agoraphobia which meant I was could not leave my house without suffering severe panic attacks. I was unable to give my son all the attention a mother should and could not fully enjoy his childhood. I felt I was a failure as a wife and mother. I felt that my husband and son would be much happier if I left them or died.
I was forty seven before I spoke of my abuse for the first time; this was to a doctor who was treating me. He advised me to warn the Church about this priest. I arranged a meeting with a curate in my parish. I was very nervous. It would be only the second time I had spoken to anyone about what had happened to me. This priest refused to take the name of my abuser and said he saw no need to report the chaplain. He told me what had happened was probably my fault. This response shattered me.
I had only begun to accept, through my doctor’s help, that I had done nothing to cause my abuse. Now being told by my priest, that it was “probably my fault” caused all my old feelings of guilt and shame to re surface. I could not face talking of it again so stopped seeing my doctor. This curate’s response served to keep me silent for a further ten years, more years of hospital stays, medication and hopelessness. He later told the police that he did not take my abuser’s name because that was what he had been taught in the seminary.
Ten years on there was extensive coverage in our press of serial sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. For the first time I began to understand that the man who had abused me might have done it to others. Thinking it was something about me that caused it to happen I had never considered that my abuser might have harmed others. Now I understood more I knew I must try again to let people know what had happened, so that children might be protected. This time I decided to go to the top with the certainty of mind that, once his superiors knew that this priest was a possible danger to children, their safety would come first and every step would be taken to ensure that no more would be harmed.
I wrote to my Archbishop and then gave details of my abuse to his chancellor, a monsignor and canon lawyer. This began the two most difficult years of my life. The priest who had sexually assaulted me was protected by his superiors from prosecution. He was left for months in his parish ministry which included mentoring children preparing for confirmation – the safety of those children ignored by his superiors. All this went against the Irish Catholic Church’s guidelines on child protection of the time – they were ignored. It has since come to light that these guidelines were thrown into doubt by opinion from the Vatican that they might not conform to canon law. My Archbishop told me he did not have to follow them, despite the people being told they were being followed to the letter.
I was treated as someone with an agenda against the Church, the police investigation was obstructed and the laity misled. I was distraught. I could not believe leaders in my Church would think it morally right to leave children at risk.
The accused priest had admitted his guilt to the diocese but during a meeting with my Archbishop I learned that his priority was the protection of the ‘good name’ of my abuser. I asked him how he could leave a known abuser in a position of trust with children? Rather than answer the question he admonished me for referring to this priest as ‘an abuser’ insisting it was a long time ago so I could not call him that. The Archbishop considered my abuse “historical” so felt it would be unfair to tarnish the priest’s “good name” now. I have heard this argument from others in leadership in the Catholic Church and always there is blindness to the current risk to children from these men. Why?