Thursday 16 August 2018

'A year after the 1979 papal visit I was raped by a priest' - why abuse survivors are gathering during Pope Francis' visit this month

Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty Ireland, calls on survivors of clerical abuse to gather in solidarity during Pope Francis' visit at the end of the month

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Rachel Farrell

"Over the weekend I was reading an article that asked readers where they were in 1979 when Pope John Paul visited Ireland. I do remember - I was 13. I went to a Christian Brother's School. I went to Mass in Wexford every Sunday. I went to a Catholic youth group. Everything I did revolved around the church at that time.

"My brother and sister went to see the pope, but I didn’t get to go. At the time, I remember being disappointed that I wasn't going. It was a huge, huge moment.

"A year later when I was 14, I was raped by a Catholic priest for the first time."

These are the words of Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of human rights organisation Amnesty Ireland, and a survivor of clerical abuse. 

Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty
Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty

On August 25 and 26, Pope Francis will spend a weekend in Ireland for the World Meeting of Families event.

After reflecting on the Pope's upcoming visit and remembering those childhood moments over the weekend, O'Gorman decided to create an event for those affected by clerical abuse in Ireland during the papal visit on August 26.

"As I sat there reading it that night, all I could think about was the famous shout out - 'young people of Ireland, I love you'. But he didn't love me enough to protect me from a paedophile," O'Gorman told Independent.ie.

"He didn’t protect the other children on the street that were raped by the same priest. No pope has ever acknowledged it. None of them have told the truth, and I want them to tell the truth."

It was 11 years later, after O'Gorman moved to the UK and returned to Ireland, that he reported the priest that abused him for three years.

"I fled my life at the age of 17, homeless on the streets of Dublin, gradually dragging myself up and over to the UK. About 11 years later when I returned I reported it to gardai in February 1995. I thought it was one bad man, who just happened to be a priest. 

"Within weeks the detective said five others had complained about the same priest. Within months there were complaints made to the bishop. In a year, I heard there were complaints made before he was ordained.

"He remained in ministry before I complained. He continued to rape and abuse with impunity. People died. A young man at the age of 23 shot himself. There was a cluster of suicide linked to this priest's abuse."

Within six hours, a tweet sent by O'Gorman this morning to organise a solidarity event at the Garden of Remembrance has over 700 likes and 400 retweets at time of writing.

An event page set on Facebook has over 500 people interested in attending.

"If you, or someone you love has been abused or hurt by the Catholic Church, or if you wish to stand in solidarity with those who have been abused, please join me at the Garden of Remembrance at 3pm on Sunday August 26th," the tweet says.

For O'Gorman, the importance of the 'Stand for Truth' event lies with standing in solidarity with those that were abused by members of the Catholic Church.

"We can't stand back and allude with this pretense- I think we're better than that. I don't want people who have been abused to be pushed to the margins as they watch the event happen. I don’t want people stuck behind crushed barriers, two miles away from the Pope.

"I want to create a space where collectively we can say it matters, that we stand in solidarity and that this is a different Ireland. We want to stand and recognise the dignity harmed and lives destroyed, and the people that died, because not everyone survived it." 

In recent days, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin confirmed that "time is very tight" for Pope Francis during his two-day visit to Ireland, and questions have arisen about whether he will meet with survivors of church abuse during his time here.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

For O'Gorman and many others affected by clerical abuse, this potential acknowledgement won't be enough, O'Gorman says.

"What's become a well-established pattern at this stage is that the pope has a private meeting with a number of abuse victims, carefully chosen. And often there's a statement of how the Pope acknowledged what happened, how he found it moving and how he regrets what happened," O'Gorman said.

"That's not an acknowledgement of the truth. I'm sorry that I was raped. I'm sorry that others were abused. I'm sorry that Irish women were incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries.  

"But an expression of regret is not responsibility."

  • If you have been affected by any of the issue raised in this article you can contact the Rape Crisis Centre on their 24 Hour Helpline on 1800 778888 or visit www.rapecrisishelp.ie

Information for the Stand for Truth event at the Garden of Remembrance on August 26 can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/274808289995193/ 

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