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Corry McMahon speaking at a joint news briefing with the Spiritans Congregation this morning. Sam Boal

Spiritans abuse survivor says 'balance of power' has changed as he urges more to come forward

The leader of the Spiritans in Ireland, Father Martin Kelly, also issued an apology to all victims on behalf of the order.

AN ABUSE SURVIVOR has said the “balance of power” changed after he spoke about being abused at Dublin’s Blackrock College by members of the Irish Spiritan religious order.

Corry McMahon, who was abused at the college when he was 12 years old, said the world “has become a different place” since he took part in a restorative justice process.

Independent experts have been appointed to engage in the restorative justice initiative with people who suffered sexual abuse at Spiritan schools in Ireland.

It emerged last week following an RTÉ radio documentary that 233 people had made allegations of abuse against 77 Irish Spiritans in ministries throughout Ireland and abroad. Of those, 57 people alleged they were abused on the Blackrock College campus.

The leader of the Spiritans in Ireland, Father Martin Kelly, also issued an apology to all victims on behalf of the order today.

“On behalf of the Spiritan Congregation of Ireland, I want to express my deepest and most sincere sorrow to every person who was abused by a member of the Spiritans, or by a staff member, in any of our schools,” Fr Kelly said. 

“I sincerely apologise for this. What was done to you as innocent children was cruel and indefensible. We are deeply ashamed of these actions.”

“Secondly, failure to act promptly resulted in children being abused who could have been protected had corrective action been taken earlier. I also acknowledge that failure on our part and apologise for it.”

Fr Kelly encouraged anyone who was abused by either a member of the Spiritans or a lay member to come forward.

“I want to go further; any notion that those who suffered were ‘weak’ in some way and share some element of blame for whatever happened to them is completely and utterly wrong.”

Asked by reporters whether the Spiritans would support a public inquiry into the abuse that took place, Fr Kelly said that he would.

The Spiritans said it does not intend to name the 77 priests who have been accused of abusing children. All of the names have been passed to the gardaí and to Tusla, they said.

Spiritans news briefing 008 Provincial of the Spiritans in Ireland, Fr. Martin Kelly, apologised on behalf of the order today. Sam Boal Sam Boal

Liam Lally, the Spiritans’ designated safeguarding person, said they had been contacted by victims who said they did not want their abuser named, and that there have been some cases of mistaken identity.

Lally said he has been contacted by over 60 people since the RTÉ documentary aired last week.

He said the majority are from Blackrock College and that many of the priests identified had previously been accused. He said one newly-identified Spiritan had also been accused of abuse, adding that his name is already with the gardaí. 

Commenting on Fr Kelly’s apology, the group of victims said that the outcome “while long overdue is welcome”.

“For some, this is the culmination of more than a decade of work towards getting an institution to acknowledge its failings.”

The victims group, comprising Corry McMahon, Louis Hoffman, Philip Feddis and John Coulter, said that they had been engaged with the Spiritans on the creation of a “substantive and independent” process, with it to be lead by Tim Chapman, a restorative justice practitioner.

“Today represents public acknowledgement of the scale of the wrongs but also the start of a process that can, we believe, help victims to find succour and hope where it has been absent for too long,” the group added.

Victim-led process

Coulter said that the group came to the restorative justice process because they felt that the existing processes in place weren’t sufficient. 

“We felt that the the existing avenues, the legal system for example, where generally people have had to try and address this in the past has been disempowering, has been retraumatising for victims,” he said.

What we wanted from the very outset in our words to the Spiritans, was we felt there needed to be a victim-led process. A process where the victim is at the centre of the process and where the victim dictates how the process unfolds, and what are the outcomes of the process.

The programme was initially carried out on a pilot basis, with participants primarily having been students of Willow Park and Blackrock College in the 1970s and 80s.

Chapman said nine restorative meetings have taken place where people recounted “in graphic detail” what happened to them.

“The nature of the abuse is depressingly similar but the impact is unique to the individuals”, Chapman said.

“The extraordinary thing is that they remember it as if it was yesterday, and we’re talking about things that happened more than 40 years ago.

Some on the surface are very, very successful people, but underneath they are still carrying a very hurt 12-year-old child inside them, and it is quite moving to hear how they have been carrying that pain for most of their lives, and there is a certain anger that it has taken so long for them to have an opportunity to speak about it.

The group of former Blackrock College students said that they wanted to “create a greater awareness of the problem” and to make it easier for people to come forward.

“While we’re a small group, we’re representative of a much wider base of former pupils of Spiritan schools, that believes the restorative justice process which, by definition, is victim-led will go some way to address the needs of all those affected by the horror of such abuse.”

The group said that after starting a dedicated Facebook group, 38 people posted reports of abuse over an eight week period. 25 of those men were part of the class of 1979, which amounted to 21% of the entire class. 

Corry McMahon became emotional as he spoke about taking part in the restorative justice process having been abused at Blackrock College 50 years ago, which he said had caused him to lose his faith.

“The next day I really had a sense that the balance of power had changed and I got the 12-year-old boy back onside. The world is very different for me now,” McMahon said.

“And it wasn’t bad before that, let me tell you that as well but, really for me internally, it has changed.”

Spiritans news briefing 002 John Coulter, Corry McMahon and Louis Hoffman, with Philip Feddis joining via phone from Brazil, at a joint news briefing with the Spiritans in Ireland. Sam Boal Sam Boal

He said the process is about giving a voice to the victims. “Hopefully this will allow people to come forward which is really what we set this up for, it’s to give victims a voice so that they can come forward and engage,” he added.

The programme will now be expanded to facilitate “any and all individuals abused by Spiritans or lay staff”, with victims being encouraged to come forward and speak about their experience.

Under the plan, individuals will be able to meet with Spiritans and receive a personal apology if requested.

Government considering inquiry

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil that the abuse that took place is “sickening and shocking” and that his thoughts and sympathies go out to all the victims and survivors. 

He said that such sexual abuse “causes immense trauma” and “destroys many aspects of their lives”, something he said has been the story of many people in Ireland “for far too long”.

The Taoiseach said the Government has agreed to hold a debate on the matter next week and is considering the most effective way “to have a victim-led approach to unearthing what went on here”. 

He said similar previous inquiries had been more effective than others and that this instance may require “a bespoke type of inquiry”.

He added that Government “have to continue to lift the veil of silence over this particular area” and give some degree of closure and a sense of justice to those who have been abused.

Four people lodged complaints with the Gardaí in relation to abuse allegations in Spiritan schools after the RTÉ radio documentary aired.

In a statement to The Journal, the Garda Press Office said: “The Sexual Crime Management Unit at the Garda National Protective Services Bureau is the central point of contact for referrals on an ongoing basis from Religious Orders throughout the country via Designated Liaison Persons.

“An Garda Síochána can confirm that referrals in respect of abuse allegations relating to Spiritan Schools and the Spiritan Order have been previously received through this system.

“An Garda Síochána can also confirm that complaints made by individual victims have also previously been received and investigated where appropriate.”

The statement added that any matters reported will be dealt with sensitively.

Gardaí have urged individuals who may have been the victim of any abuse to contact them.

Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally

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