Friday 21 October 2016

Crisis in Maynooth: Former Thurles seminarian describes ‘serious bullying’

Ex-trainee priest says memory of mental and physical abuse still causes him pain

Sarah MacDonald

Published 08/08/2016 | 02:30

St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, which has been at the centre of controversy over the experience of seminarians. Photo: Arthur Carron
St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, which has been at the centre of controversy over the experience of seminarians. Photo: Arthur Carron

A former seminarian at St Patrick's College in Thurles has told of the severe physical and mental abuse he endured while studying at the seminary.

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'James' told the Irish Independent of the bullying he endured at the seminary - including one incident where he had a bucket of dirt thrown over him by two people wearing balaclavas.

Outlining for the first time in full his experiences of physical and mental abuse almost 25 years ago in the seminary, as he embarked on what he thought was the path to priesthood, he said, "As I now recall that year, I feel so much pain and horror for what I experienced."

"When I entered [the] seminary, I was living with over 100 students and priests and lecturers.

"These priests were there to guide us on our journey to ordination and help us discern what we truly wanted out of life. They would be our leaders, spiritual directors and brothers within whom we would place our trust and always be confident that they cared for our wellbeing," he said.

However, instead he was subject to bullying and wrongly accused of a criminal act, which his accuser later admitted was a lie - but 'James' never received an apology from the college.

"The time for secrets has ended," he stated.

The former seminarian revealed how he was forced to dress up in women's clothes for a college variety show called 'The Henry' within the first week of entering the seminary in order to entertain the college president and the seminary's priests.

"I was forcefully encouraged to put on a lady's dress and wig and go out on stage and sing like that.

"I was absolutely mortified and hated every moment. While standing on the stage, some other students got a long pole with a hook on it and tried to rip the dress off me. I got so upset, I ran off the stage to the laughter of everyone present."

His second memory of feeling shocked was the medical examination that all first-year students had to take within the first two weeks of arrival. In the infirmary, the doctor was waiting for him.

Read more: 'Seminarians going on a dating site, there’s something wrong there' - Archbishop Martin

"I thought I knew what to expect. The regular checks of blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, etc, were all done and I was getting a clean bill of health.

"But what followed was a shock. I was instructed to drop my trousers and underpants. I immediately questioned this. I was told by the doctor to just do what I was told. Once everything had been removed, the doctor immediately went about feeling my penis, something I had never experienced in my life to that point.

"I was now very scared and horrified. I did ask the doctor why he was doing it. He became very abrupt with me and said that it was normal practice for any student who wanted to be a priest. They had to ensure that I was a fully functional male so that, I, the student could fully understand and appreciate what I was giving up by taking on the rule of celibacy. He further stated that this was in accordance with canon law. For me, it was a total intrusion of my privacy and almost a stripping away of what I held dear, my dignity."

Other unhealthy, boarding school-type pranks constituted bullying, he believes. They included removing all his possessions and personal belongings from his room and dumping them elsewhere, which led to the breakage of a personal photograph of his late grandmother who had passed away just two weeks after he entered the seminary.

On another occasion a bucket of muck and dirt was thrown over him as he rang the bell for the six o'clock Angelus by two people wearing balaclavas. "No one would help me, these future priests just laughed, saying 'Ah, it was your turn this time'."

The final straw came when he was accused of stealing money and questioned by a member of the local Gardaí. His accuser later admitted fabricating the story when 'James' confronted him.

The other seminarian said he felt so bad about it that he had considered taking his own life. 'James' told the dean of formation that the man was feeling suicidal and the student was put under 24-hour watch and later removed from the college.

Read more: Crisis in Maynooth: Growing disquiet about scandal won't just go away

To this day, he has never received an apology.

"These events were truly the beginning of the end of my dream to become a priest. It killed my faith in people and destroyed what I had always held dear. When people talk about abuse, I am constantly aware that abuse comes in many different forms, not always sexual. But it is the secrecy and failure to acknowledge fault that is the most damning thing."

Any happy memories of his year in seminary are tarnished by the "serious bullying" 'James' claims he endured.

He added: "[These people] believed they had a vocation. My wish is nothing like [this] happens anyone again."

'James' spoke out after a former seminarian at Maynooth alleged last week that a member of staff harassed him. The man made a preliminary statement to the gardaí yesterday.

He said that he will continue with his complaint and provide a formal statement this week.

"They certainly felt that a couple of isolated incidents which I mentioned did ­warrant investigation by them," he told the Irish ­Independent.

"I will be meeting them next week in person to provide a written statement concerning the above."

He said that a priest who was meant to be his "spiritual father" acted inappropriately towards him on a number of occasions.

He said that his faith was "severely shaken" and he suffered from a severe depression.

Irish Independent

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