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I built a prison of self-hatred, but religion provided the blueprint

Letters to the Editor


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Sir — I am a 30-year-old man and gay. I have only accepted this and told my family and friends very recently because I was so ashamed and hated myself . As a result, I have been thinking a lot about why I was ashamed, and many memories from secondary school came to mind.

I started at an all-boys school in 2005. I knew I was gay from my early teenage years, but it soon became clear it was the worst thing to be in an all-boys school, because gay, and a variety of derogatory synonyms, was used by other students as the ultimate byword for “bad” or “wrong”.

There was a lot of homophobic bullying as a result, particularly directed at anyone perceived to be different.

I don’t like to describe it as homophobic because I don’t think it was motivated by fear; I think anti-gay is more accurate.

The teachers compounded the pain by reinforcing the bullies’ words. Like most schools in the country, it was a Catholic school. In religion, I learned that, according to the church, gay people were “intrinsically disordered” and would be damned to hell unless they died in a state of God’s grace by repenting and never acting on their sexuality.

I was a naive and trusting child and absorbed everything the religion teacher said. I was also taught about the power of prayer and the rosary, which led to me praying decades of the rosary in secret so that God would make me straight; the God who created me, and presumably made me gay, yet hated me if I expressed this aspect of myself.

It didn’t work. Many teachers made anti-gay remarks that would have seemed throwaway and unproblematic to them but lodged deeply in the mind of a young gay person like me.

Looking back, I ask where did my peers (and teachers) learn that it was bad to be gay?

To me, this origin and legitimisation of anti-gay prejudice comes from religion — and not just Catholicism.

I am an atheist and disagree with the teachings of the Catholic Church, although I was successfully indoctrinated as an impressionable child and hope that I will be able to undo the damage this has done.

I never want anyone else to feel the way I felt about being gay. In my opinion, the way to achieve this is to separate the Catholic Church from the governance of the majority of schools in this country.

My family aren’t religious — I went to a Catholic school because that was the done thing and practically all schools were, and are, Catholic. I built the prison of shame and self-hatred for myself, but religious teachings provided the blueprint.

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I hope things are better for young people who are gay in secondary schools today. I must also emphasise that I don’t necessarily want Catholic schools to abandon their principles.

To be Catholic is to unquestioningly accept the teachings of the Catholic Church on being gay.

For Catholic-run schools to put up pride flags and pretend to be accepting is complete hypocrisy and exactly the kind of ploy used to make people think they’re different and tolerant today, but this is simply disingenuous.

If you’re Catholic, be Catholic. Don’t, however, think that your beliefs should dominate this country’s education system.

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Trauma of abuse took me a lifetime to heal

Sir — As an elderly person who was abused as a 10-year-old by two members of my extended family, I can speak first-hand of the trauma that results from such behaviour.

The abusers were both uncles who were kind to me. I had lost my dad, who I adored, some years earlier. These men offered me attention and positive encouragement that my stressed mother could not.

When the abuse occurred, I felt instinctively I was a bad person. I knew these men were not bad. This belief coloured my entire adult life.

I developed an eating disorder at 17 after a date who wanted to fondle and kiss me triggered the trauma I had buried.

For 21 years this illness took over my entire life. I attempted suicide a number of times, such was the sense l had of being a dirty and inferior person. I was totally unable to have a “normal” relationship.

I have been told by persons close to me that I made too much of the abuse — that it “happened to everyone” in those days, that the man who abused me had a tough life.

A boyfriend once told me “to get over it”. A later partner claimed he couldn’t be with me, I was “damaged goods”. I normalised all of this as being my due. It took many years of therapy to take back my life from my abusers.

People say of sexual abuse victims that they are looking for money. I can only speak of my own experience. My abusers are dead and were poor. But they destroyed the trust of a young girl. They used my body for their adult gratification. There is no compensation for that.

To be sexually abused as a child really messes with one’s head. It feels wrong. Yet an adult you trust is doing it to you.

It took me a full lifetime to stop feeling ashamed and dirty and to trust my own innate reaction to situations.

I will never be without a voice on any issue where I see injustice or imbalance of power acted out. That is my way of addressing the abuse in my childhood.

Name and address with editor

​Good priests should be spared vilification

Sir — The abuse of children by any adult is a scandal, and the recent revelations regarding the extent of abuse inflicted on some students attending Spiritan-run schools up to the 1980s is one of the greatest breaches of trust by what should have been role models for young people.

As a previous student of St Mary’s College, Rathmines, I am, like other students, appalled at the breach of trust and the ineffective management of abusers.

But it is only fair to acknowledge the majority of Spiritan priests who taught in our school were kind men. Many lived exemplary lives dedicated to the poorest people around the world and to the education of Irish boys.

I have no doubt that many are shattered by these recent revelations, and I think it is only fair the good priests are spared any public vilification because of the sins of others.

Frank Browne, Dublin 16

Spirit of JFK is lost in crass consumerism

Sir — Americans will eat their Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner on Thursday, November 24, in a divided country.

It’s deja vu all over again. The indecisive Joe Biden and the ultra-protectionist Donald Trump are determined to contest the next presidential election.

Thanksgiving Day, a federal holiday in the US giving thanks for the year’s harvest, has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, but has long been a major secular holiday.

How the US could do now with a president like John F Kennedy whose charisma, heroism and youthful energy provided a breath of fresh air.

He appealed to the nations of the world to join together to fight what he called the “common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war”.

When JFK was presented with three turkeys for Thanksgiving by the National Poultry Board, he cooked one for family dinner, he gifted the second to Dr Martin Luther King, the charismatic civil rights leader, and he ‘pardoned’ the third.

These symbolic gestures to equal rights and compassion have been lost on the American public in its hysterical rush to consumer spending.

Irish consumers have embraced Black Friday weekend shopping, but let’s be careful lest we end up with huge debts, maxed-out credit cards and unwanted gifts.

The self-indulgent shopping frenzy conflicts with the core values of moderation, inclusion, compassion and care so powerfully conveyed by JFK in his policy of active citizenship, civil rights and patriotism.

Billy Ryle, Tralee, Co Kerry

​Modern life has no place for IRA legend

Sir — There was rapturous applause at the Sinn Féin ard fheis for a speech that depicted IRA activists as “heroes” (Eilis O’Hanlon, Sunday Independent, November 13).

One could point to several IRA operations that were anything but heroic. ​

They did, however, succeed in shooting a hero in one of their more gruesome operations.

In 1996 in Adare, the IRA murdered Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and pumped several bullets into the now-deceased Ben O’Sullivan, the only garda in history to win two Scott medals for bravery in serving the citizens of this Republic.

The glorification, ambivalence and obfuscation one hears regarding the brutal 30-year IRA reign of terror brings to mind the words from John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. To paraphrase: “To hell with the truth, print the legend.”

Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin have too much invested in the legend to even contemplate, let alone suggest, the IRA campaign of violence was wrong.

To do otherwise would, in the words of the late Lord Denning, present them with “an appalling vista”.

It behoves the rest of us without fear or favour to “handle the truth”.

Jim O’Connell, Ashtown, Dublin 7

​Haughey turned a blind eye to terror

Sir — Eilis O’Hanlon tries to contrast the respective attitudes to the IRA of Mary Lou McDonald and the late Charles Haughey, writing that it is “unthinkable” the latter “would have shown any solidarity to those who murdered guards” even if he had “an ambivalent attitude towards the IRA in the North” (November 13).

Perhaps that is so, but the former taoiseach can hardly be excused: terrorist murder had to be rejected on both sides of the Border; sneaking regard for the IRA in Northern Ireland encouraged it in the Republic.

CDC Armstrong, Belfast

Vicky Phelan’s quest for the truth an example to all

Sir — Vicky Phelan was an exceptional person. She refused to sign the non-disclosure agreement when her compensation case was being settled in the courts a few years ago because she knew it would be morally and ethically wrong to do so.

She wanted to alert other women to check their cervical smear tests again to make sure these were properly analysed and they were not in danger.

She was a great mother, and her children can be very proud of her for standing up for decency and courage. She taught the powers-that-be how to treat patients who trust they will be treated well and told of any diagnosis in good time — or if a mistake has been made.

Truth is the core tenet of life, as well as love, kindness and giving support to one another. Vicky was a huge example of this in her life journey. She was a powerful person, and may the light shine upon her. Many blessings to her and her family.

Mary Sullivan, College Road, Cork

​Outpouring of grief shows love for Vicky

Sir — I went to Limerick City Hall to sign Vicky Phelan’s book of condolence. There was a woman before me, deep in thought, writing, writing and writing — with tears pouring.

She stopped and looked up with a look of complete despair. Our eyes met and I knew we both felt the same: Why?

Vicky you can take a bow

You fought the battle, and how

The trials, the tests,

The endless quests

Look at the legacy you’ve left now.

Úna Heaton, via email

Anthem strikes the right note for unity

Sir — Brendan Savage calls for The Soldier’s Song to be sung at next year’s Rugby World Cup (‘We need our Soldier’s Song for rugby battles’, Letters, November 13). But this is clearly not a Republic of Ireland team. Rugby teams represent the whole island. Players are drawn from all traditions and none.

Rugby, as many other sports do, shows what an all-Ireland team can achieve playing together. If we are ever to enjoy political unity, we have to compromise and sing an anthem that unifies us.

Ireland’s Call is a good effort and can be sung together by all shades of Irish.

Liam Tighe, Dublin 15

Degree worth more than job prospects

Sir — I would dearly love to see the Government doing more to talk up the social, rather than the economic, value of a university education.

I think the whole purpose of education is lost if we as a society can only be persuaded to sup at the fountain of wisdom if we are promised economic gain for our academic efforts.

Judging the value of one’s education purely on the basis of subsequent earnings is typical of the crass philistinism that modern society peddles. Education should be more than just about job prospects.

I would love to see us cherish eduction for education’s sake. People’s lives are enriched by education and the wonderful intellectual and cultural doors it opens.

There is even a link between one’s level of education and life expectancy. It is important we see it as one of life’s great gifts.

John O’Brien, Clonmel, Co Tipperary

Dedicated HSE staff deserve our thanks

Sir — Recently, after an accident, I was taken by ambulance to Drogheda trauma unit.

After surgery for fractures, I was treated in the orthopaedic unit for a few weeks. I received care that was professional, patient and of a standard that would rival any facility in the country.

At a time when we are quick to criticise the HSE, may I say to all the staff a sincere thank you.

Jim Kearns, Drogheda, Co Louth

​Put root canal work on the medical card

Sir — Root canals should be on the medical card as basic dental treatment to save teeth.

You can be put under enormous financial pressure by some dentists to have root-canal treatment, which costs thousands. We need to bring it into the public system.

In the UK, those entitled to free dental treatment pay just €65.20, while here it is €850 for the initial treatment, plus a crown for molars for €1,000 – in addition to the costs of reviews and other treatments if the procedure is unsuccessful.

Irish independence has been very expensive.

Maurice Fitzgerald, Shanbally, Co Cork

​Why pay more when you can drink less?

Sir — Rumours of a 25pc hike in the price of a pint is a reminder you can’t beat the three-quarters-of-a-pint of plain.

Tom Gilsenan, Beaumont, Dublin 9

​Musk has flushed $44bn down the pan

Sir — Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter is worrying, both for users and primarily employees.

I no longer support a platform that treats its employees with such disdain. Maybe Musk should have brought a toilet to his first day at work rather than a sink, given he has flushed $44bn down the pan.

Christy Galligan, Letterkenny, Co Donegal

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