Phyllis had third child after being raped by a priest
Professor Ivor Browne talks to Niamh Horan about the final secret Phyllis Hamilton kept hidden from the world
Published 06/07/2014 | 02:30
The latest chapter in the tragic life of Phyllis Hamilton has come to light - it has been revealed she had a third child, after being raped by a priest.
The woman, who took on the Catholic Church after living an extraordinary double life with Fr Michael Cleary, gave birth to a baby girl following the sexual assault.
The baby was born after the two boys she had with Fr Cleary and was given up for adoption to a family in America.
It is not known where the girl - who would be in her 20s now - is today, or whether she has tried to find her birth mother since.
The final sad instalment to the legacy of Phyllis Hamilton has become public 13 years after she died from cancer, having undergone DNA tests to categorically prove her son Ross Hamilton was fathered by Fr Cleary.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent Professor Ivor Browne, a long-time therapist to both Ms Hamilton and Fr Cleary, explained the sequence of events and confirmed there was a third child.
"Phyllis had a third child, a baby girl, but she gave her up for adoption shortly after she gave birth, to a family in America," said Prof Browne.
"She had the child with a priest who knew her secret with Fr Cleary and he blackmailed her and had sex with her. He threatened to expose her if she ever told anyone about it. It was rape, really. And when she eventually told people, he was expelled out of the priesthood after that."
The news comes only a week after Dublin priest Fr Arthur O'Neill questioned whether Fr Cleary really fathered the children with Phyllis, who was his housekeeper - allegations which in the mid-1990s provoked a huge scandal in the Irish Catholic Church.
At the time, Fr Cleary was one of the most popular faces of the church and a regular guest on the Late Late Show whenever there was a debate about religious matters. He addressed the crowd before the Pope's visit in 1979.
In private, however, he fathered two children with Phyllis with whom he had a relationship for 26 years. Their first child was given up for adoption, while their second son, Ross, lived in the house with the couple.
Now in his 80s, controversial psychiatrist Browne described how, at times, the young mother was "on the point of bursting" due to her secret relationship, but her loyalty meant "she stuck with it until it ultimately killed her".
In a candid interview, Prof Browne described how a young Phyllis first came to see him at the age of 12 to work through the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father. He said he was "pissed off" when she arrived back pregnant with Fr Cleary's child because he had brought her so far in dealing with issues that had been troubling her.
"She was doing fine and then next thing she came to tell me she was pregnant. I couldn't believe it," said Prof Browne. "Cleary took her into his house - he was taking in adolescents who were in trouble. I was pissed off because I had put a lot of work into helping her come through her issues."
He also revealed for the first time how Phyllis initially called the first baby Ivor Michael after the psychiatrist, who had become a father-like figure in her life, before giving her son up for adoption.
The therapist eventually saw both Phyllis and Fr Cleary as they battled to deal with this double life they had built around themselves.
"She would get to the point where she couldn't take it anymore. She tried to leave him a few times but she loved him too much. And I saw him too over the years. I would tell him over and over 'you have got to decide'. He just couldn't join those two halves of himself together. There are secrets everywhere. People can often maintain double lives for years but then, when it emerges, it floods their life with anxiety. Eventually the truth always tends to come out," added Prof Browne.
He explained how their psychological and physical health began to deteriorate under the burden of what they were carrying.
"I never remember Cleary crying over the years, but he would be very worried and upset at times when Phyllis was in a bad state," said Prof Browne. "She damaged herself, cutting herself with frustration and he would get very upset when she did that - that's when he would contact me. It was intolerable for her having to go on like this the whole time." He added that Cleary "was suicidal when it came out too".
In the end, Prof Browne was by Phyllis' side during her dying hours. He sat with her and prayed but he said: "We didn't talk about Fr Cleary. Everything had been said. It was just to be with her.
"My memory of her overall would be of the tremendous courage and loyalty she had. I saw his problems too but I never felt he was ever a bad human being."
When Phyllis died, Prof Browne said he was dismayed at the turnout for her funeral: "We had done a lot of work and negotiation to get the cells from Vincent's Hospital and by this time Phyllis was sick and going towards death. Eventually it was proved 100pc that Ross was Fr Cleary's son.
"Then Phyllis died and I remember at the funeral there was no press or media interest whatsoever even though the thing had been proved 100pc. The media had moved on. It was no longer a story. It was very sad."
Responding to Fr O'Neill who questioned the legitimacy of the fact Fr Cleary really fathered the children with Phyllis, Prof Browne said: "He has already referred to me as a hit-and-run merchant in a parish news letter," said Prof Browne. "It doesn't matter what evidence you present, if a person isn't prepared to let go of their own ideas then there's no convincing them."
But he himself is not convinced the Catholic Church and Ireland as a whole has learned anything from the story of Phyllis Hamilton and Fr Cleary. "Is there much evidence that Ireland is learning from any of this? This is minuscule compared to the scandals that have come out about the abuse and things that have happened in these institutions," he said.
"Taoiseach Enda Kenny described what came out recently about the mother and baby homes as another chapter of our past but it's not our past - it's still there. There are still 4,000 women going for an abortion in England every year. Many in secret and alone. What would the pro-life people do if that back door was shut? All hell would break loose. I don't think we have learned very much."