The Irish novelist John Boyne was on the radio Sunday morning, talking to the CBC’s Michael Enright about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Carmelite priests while growing up in Dublin. “They blighted my youth, and the youth of (gay) people like me, leading to the most unhealthy and troubling relationships once I became sexually active.”
Boyne was also physically abused. When he was 13, one particularly sadistic priest beat him so badly – with a wooden stick capped with a metal weight – that Boyne had to be hospitalized briefly. He spent two weeks at home recuperating.
What did his parents do after the priest brutalized him? Nothing. “They wouldn’t have known what to do, other than apologize to the priest on my behalf for whatever I had (supposedly) done,” said Boyne. “This was a time when you couldn’t go against the priest because you’d be thrown out of school. You’d be expelled.”
My heart sank when I heard this. Boyne was talking about what had happened to him while growing up in Dublin in the 1980s. I had encountered similar abuse in Dublin in the 1950s. After I left Ireland and moved to Canada as a 23-year-old in 1966, I had hoped that things might change.
The abusive cleric in my case was a Christian Brother named Tynan who took photographs of the boys when we were playing football or rehearsing for the school concert. We would have been aged 11 and 12 at the time. Tynan developed the films in a darkroom under the stage in the school hall, and invited certain boys – teacher’s pets, we called them – down to watch. When one boy – I’ll call him Alan Sweeney – told us that Tynan had pulled down Sweeney’s pants in the darkroom and fondled his genitals, we didn’t believe him. “Nah, the Brother would never do that.”
I was never invited into Tynan’s darkroom. My encounter with him occurred after I surreptitiously wrote something in chalk on the back of Sweeney’s leather jacket. Tynan demanded to know who had done this, and hit me across the face with with his leather strap when I owned up. He then beat me steadily on the hands and legs until I collapsed on the floor, crying. “I want your father down here this evening to talk to him about your bad behaviour.”
My father had no sympathy for me. “The Brother tells me you’ve been a problem in class, and that if you ever do something like this again, you’ll be expelled from the school.” I didn’t have the words to tell him I thought Tynan’s punishment was excessive for what amounted to little more than a misdemeanour. I was disappointed that my father chose to believe whatever Tynan had told him rather than ask for my side of the story.
Tynan was never called to account for his abusive behaviour. He continued to teach, take pictures, fondle little boys, and flog miscreant students. Sweeney later committed suicide.
My experience with Tynan, as we know from what novelist Boyne told the CBC’s Enright, and from what we have read in media reports during the past 35 years, was not unusual. School corporal punishment in Ireland wasn’t regulated until 1982. If a teacher wanted to use a weapon similar to the one that sent Boyne to the hospital, there was nothing in the law to stop him. There were laws in place to prevent sexual abuse but the abusers were never charged. Instead, they were protected and reassigned.
There are now some checks and balances in place. School corporal punishment has been outlawed in Ireland since 1996. Sexual abusers have been charged and victims have been compensated. But more than 90 percent of the schools are still controlled by the Catholic Church. They answer to the local bishop, not to any governmental authority. In 2012, the Irish education minister, Ruarí Quinn, unveiled a plan to remove hundreds of schools from the control of the Church and place them under the stewardship of elected bodies. To date, however, the Church has yet to hand over a single school to another patron.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 Brian Brennan - Writer