IT HAS been dubbed the "Cradle of Evil".
Right at the heart of the clerical sex scandals is St Peter's College in Wexford town, where many of the priests involved in the allegations were trained - and where young boys were abused. The closed seminary has been one of the main focuses of the investigation, with revelations that a gay sex ring was operating at the college. While it once had a proud history of training priests, it soon became known as an "academy of debauchery". By the mid-70s, the college had gained a reputation, among those in the know, for every kind of abuse - from priests and seminarians feeling up young boys to instances of outright rape.
Victims of the abuse have told of how other schoolchildren would openly taunt them as the accusations of abuse grew around the town. At the centre of the web of abuse were Fr Sean Fortune and Fr Donal Collins, whose reputations as paedophiles grew over two decades.
Collins was sentenced to four years by a court in 1999 for indecent assault and gross indecency on four boys, while Fortune killed himself in the same year. Abuse victim Pat Jackman said that St Peter's was the talk of the town, with pupils being asked to stay back for "extra lessons", knowing full well their fate. The notoriety of what went on at St Peter's preceded it with tales of the activities of Fr Sean Fortune circulating around the area.
"What went on is just unbelievable," said one of the former victims.
It has been suggested that Fortune, who was 44 when he died, had been attacking boys for 20 years. However, even by the time he had entered St Peter's, rumours about the college abounded, with allegations that many of the priests were homosexual, while others were said to have girlfriends staying in their rooms. At the centre of the abuse were Fortune and Collins - known as "Flapper" and "Paws". A former Christian brother training to be a priest, Fortune organised a scout troop in order to prey on young students.
However, it was Collins who was seen as the more dangerous of the two, running a swimming club where his developmental checks were an excuse for debauchery. In 1999, Collins, the former principal of St Peter's College, was released from prison on grounds of ill health.
Other instances investigated by the Ferns inquiry included the high-profile case of Msgr Micheal Ledwith, who lectured at St Peter's in the early 1970s before taking up a post at St Patrick's College, Maynooth - where he later become president. In July this year it was revealed that the diocese of Ferns made a settlement of more than €200,000 to a Catholic priest who was sexually abused while a student at St Peter's.
Shane Hickey Irish Independent