Ireland's Child Care Institutions during the 20th. Century. Fo'T: The most vivid and passionate stories - banished babies, cruel orphanages, old abuses of power - have concerned things that went unnoticed, or at least unarticulated, at the time. News has often had to be redefined, not as the latest sensation but as that which everybody knew all along yet could not say.

Wednesday, September 18, 1996

Paedophile priest given access to youths, say victims

The "informal" inquiry into the sexual abuse of young people in the south east arises from claims that state agencies placed vulnerable youths in the control of a child-abusing priest and then ignored their complaints - By JIM CUSACK, Security Correspondent

THE abuse victim at the centre of the controversy over the state authorities' alleged failure to protect vulnerable children from paedophiles is now aged 32 and is himself a low level abuser. He has been in and out of orphanages and hostels since he was four, when his father was convicted of incestuously assaulting his sisters. It was also known at the time of his father's conviction that he was sexually abusing his son. However, no charges were brought in relation to this.

The father received a suspended sentence for abusing his daughters, who were taken into care. But the father continued to have access to his son and was able to take him from institutions for the sole purpose of abusing him. Professionals acquainted with the case describe the abuse inflicted on the boy by his father as "horrific". At the time, the family had been living in Dublin, although the parents later moved to Waterford, where they had relatives. The father, an alcoholic, died four years ago and the mother is now in a psychiatric institution.

During the 1970s, the boy passed through a series of Eastern Health Board institutions in Dublin, where he recalls being abused in different institutions by one priest, a member of a religious order who might be a priest or a brother and by one lay social worker. As a boy, the victim spent periods in many of the State's orphanages and residential care institutions, including some which have since been at the centre of abuse allegations from other sources.

Although the victim is said to suffer from several psychological problems, brought on by a lifetime of abuse, professionals say he has remarkable recall and does not have a low IQ. In 1985, he was in a state run hostel in the south east and on probation for minor offences, not sexually related. A Co Kilkenny priest, now serving eight years for serious sexual offences against boys, called frequently at the institution with the purpose of abusing boys.

Eventually, the State ceded control of the victim to the priest in 1985, and he brought him to his house, where he carried out rape and other abuse of the young man for 10 years. During this time, the young man lived mainly in a caravan at the bottom of the priest's garden. In 1994, the then 30 year old man was arrested after making indecent approaches to young boys in a park in Kilkenny town. He was charged with indecent behaviour and assault. It is accepted by gardai and the State that the assault was on the lower end of sexual offences and consisted mainly of fondling two boys without trying to remove their clothes.

During questioning by gardai, the man gave a detailed account of the prolonged sexual abuse he had suffered in the south east, including his time in state institutions and with the priest. (The priest cannot be named because the courts have directed it would be contempt to do so, citing reasons of confidentiality of victims.) The man's accounts were so detailed, including the names of other youths abused by the priest, that investigations were started and the priest was eventually arrested and questioned in late 1994.

Gardai contacted several of the priest's victims and he eventually confessed to his crimes, although it is understood, only after having made attempts to dissuade some victims from giving evidence against him. He was sentenced earlier this year after a brief court appearance. Statements in the case, which did not come out in court, suggested the priest had been allowed liberal access to youths in state institutions, including at least one probation hostel, and St Patrick's Institution for juvenile offenders in Dublin.

There are suspicions that from the late 1980s, authorities in the south east may have suspected the victim in this case was at risk while in the care of the priest.

The second source of the allegations in the case is a slightly younger man, now serving a jail sentence for a violent, non-sexual assault on his common law wife's four year old son. This man has made repeated complaints that the priest was also allowed to abuse him while he was in a state run institution in the south east. He also maintains that complaints about the abuse were ignored over a long period. It is not clear what approach to the complaints the State is adopting as the Minister for Justice, Mrs Owen, has directed that a retired judge, Mr William O'Connell wife is understood to be operating from a room in Clonmel Courthouse carry out an "informal" examination of the allegations. No terms of reference were available yesterday.

It was not clear yesterday if Mr O'Connell will pursue other victims of the priest, who appears to have had access to large numbers of youths, mostly orphans and offenders who had no homes during a long period.

One of the main sources of local concern about the affair is that, after an initial amount of interest by the church authorities, there appears to be little state or Catholic Church support for the priest's victims. The 32 year old man at the centre of the allegations is being kept in St Canice's Psychiatric Hospital in Kilkenny, although the authorities acknowledge he does not suffer from a psychiatric illness. He is being chemically sedated with prozac, valium and a drug to suppress sex drive. The Circuit Court has refused to imprison the man and has criticised the South Eastern Health Board's inability to place the man in a suitable caring hostel. The board, at its last monthly meeting, heard it would cost £700,000 to complete and staff a suitable hostel for people with such problems.

Last week, the man reported that he had been sexually assaulted by another of the patients in St Canice's. This is being investigated by gardai.

© The Irish Times - Wednesday, September 18, 1996