17Feb Cleris are Citizens too, writes Paddy Banville

It seems that in some minds I need to establish my right as a ‘cleric’ to comment on child abuse. I know it’s ridiculous but I’ll try!

Clerics – where do we come from?

As I tried to say on Morning Ireland [19.09.2011]; on October 20th 2011 I paid my tax to Ireland, not to the Vatican. I grew up in Wexford town in the late sixties, seventies and early eighties. When I was an infant my parents didn’t wrap me in a cassock and ship me off to the Vatican. I wasn’t parachuted in from the Vatican, from a different culture or planet! I’m an Irish citizen, born and raised here, educated here, and I really don’t understand the generalisation ‘cleric’. As I see it this is one island, one nation, one people, one Government, one law, one chance to address child abuse wherever it occurs. The fact that I’m a ‘cleric’ is secondary. I’m first and foremost a human being with an identity that is uniquely mine, the description ‘cleric’ should not detract from my right to be treated as such, no matter what other ‘clerics’ have or have not done. I am Irish society, so are you; although sometimes referred to as a ‘cleric’ I am as much a citizen and a human being as any other citizen and human being on this island.

The standard response to almost every ‘clerics’ entrance into this debate is an accusation of attempted deflection from clerical abuse. This response is at the very least presumption based on the failure to treat each ‘cleric’ as a unique human being. Because I’m a ‘cleric’ it’s presumed in some quarters that my only interest in child abuse is in deflecting attention from clerical abuse. What an extraordinary presumption, what a denial of individual humanity, what a denial of basic human rights in the name of human rights! This is dangerous territory. Besides, even if I wanted to – which I don’t – is it really possible to deflect attention from clerical abuse in Ireland 2012? I think such deflection is impossible and the argument is fast approaching the ridiculous. It would be easier for me to get you the moon!
Since the publication of my piece ‘Church is holding a mirror up to society’ [Irish Catholic 15.09.2011] I’ve been called everything from a “disgrace” to a “prophet”. In truth, every reference to me is a deflection and the deflection is very obvious when compared to the experience of the woman who sent a text moments after my interview on Morning Ireland; “Dear Fr Banville, don’t back down from your stance on mother’s failures. You are so right. My mother sacrificed me.” I raised my voice because I’m convinced we’re leaving too many victims – perhaps the silent majority – outside our ongoing debate.

So I think we’re first and foremost citizens with a job to do, to ensure that the Government we’ve elected introduces comprehensive response systems to empower victims and families everywhere to break the cycle of abuse; past, present and future. We need something more than ‘one response system fits all’. We need response systems – plural – and a particularly comprehensive system if we are to deal with familial abuse. Empowering victims to break the cycle of familial abuse will require innovation and possibly a whole new approach – we really need to break the mould here. This is our chance.

One island, one nation, one people, one Government, one law, one begging chance to introduce response systems that give maximum empowerment to victims (and families who choose to support the primary victims – such support is not always forthcoming) to exit the dark house of child abuse. We really don’t need to be arguing with each other about this issue. What will that do for the victims? Nothing, except deflect attention! The important issues are prevention and maximum empowerment of victims, and after the Fr Reynolds debacle I might add; while protecting the innocent! Our task then is prevention and the maximum empowerment of victims while protecting the innocent. That’s our goal, why can’t it be our common goal? As a society we really need to talk about this, about what constitutes maximum empowerment of victims while protecting the innocent, and do so as equal citizens.

To use a well-worn Church phrase, it’s about the protection of human life from the moment of conception to natural death, and in that context we must also protect children wherever they may be.

There is nowhere more fitting to conclude than with the voices of victims, Joan, Elizabeth and Margaret are among others who called shortly after my interview on Morning Ireland.


I feel that Fr. Banville ‘hit the nail on the head’ in his recent article ‘Church is holding a mirror up to society’. Child abuse, no matter where, when or by whom, has been covered up, minimised, denied or justified by Irish society for far too long.

A handful of very brave victims of abuse spoke up and in doing so paved the way for others to take action and believe in ourselves, to believe that we too deserve to be heard, that we too suffered abuse and that enough is enough. It’s as though those who spoke up about abuse gave permission for us to do the same – abuse can make us very obedient; waiting to be allowed!

I reported my abuser – my ‘father’. The Garda read my entire statement out to my ‘father’ in the presence of my mother. My father admitted and signed each count of sexual abuse, yet he stood up in court under oath and denied everything. My mother walked past me in court, she was there for him and before anyone thinks she was a victim herself, my mother ruled the roost – she started every row and sent only her daughters to his room time after time, year in year out, never ever coming to check on us or wonder why we were taking so long. She abandoned me, neglected to protect me and knowingly sacrificed me to him.

It’s almost ten years since I reported the sexual abuse which took place in my family home from age 4yrs to 14yrs. My father has since died – a newspaper journalist told me he was dead. My ‘family‘, mother, sisters and brothers did not even let me know he had died. I have had no contact whatsoever with my family for almost ten years; like the typical Irish family they wanted to ‘keep it in the family’, ‘we will deal with it’. Well they did deal with it; they disowned me, my husband and our children and grand children.

Child sexual abuse spans generations leaving destruction and decay in its path. I feel it really is time that a mirror is held up and every single person looks deep into it and reflects on what they could have done, should have done, and can do now.

NB – Sexual abuse thrives in silence – let all people no matter race or religion break the silence and save the children.



When I discovered that my daughter had been abused by a member of the family I set about protecting her and insisted that the perpetrator go for therapy. I discussed the problem with the wider family. They initially showed concern and listened to my plan. However, within three months they had all distanced themselves from my daughter and me. After a year they only sent birthday and Christmas cards. Now they don’t even do that! My mother lives a short distance away yet ignores us. The perpetrator now lives in another country and the family refuse to provide an address or a telephone number for him.

For many years my daughter was the beautiful light at the centre of every family occasion, particularly for her grandparents. Now she is treated like an outcast. My daughter’s life could have been made so much easier with the support of the wider family. However, we have great friends and they have been wonderful to us over recent years and one member of the family has stood beside us through all of theses difficulties. I am eternally grateful to her – through her goodness I have retained my faith in mankind.

I believe my story is not unusual and that similar things are happening all over Ireland. I know I did the right thing in protecting my daughter. If this matter could be highlighted and debated publicly then families like mine might realize that they are compounding the problem ten-fold for the abused child by their actions. Bringing this into the public realm will also discourage the abusers who rely on their family’s shame to protect them as they carry on with their defilement of the innocent and vulnerable children in their care.

Please Fr. Banville; continue to speak out. We mothers are not brave all the time every day, and cannot speak out ourselves for fear of having our children branded. We need a voice.



When I heard Fr. Banville being interviewed [Morning Ireland 19.09.2011] my reaction was “thank God somebody is brave enough to say publicly what I have felt and written about for years but was never brave enough to say out loud”. I was sexually abused for thirteen years. In the late 1990’s I broke silence and told my family about the other family member who had perpetrated these deeds. After 48 hours of sympathy I was actively “encouraged” to keep quiet and forget it. When the issue of reporting arose, phone calls were made so that this would not happen. The “perfect” family image must not be tainted. I later discovered that my mum knew all along what was happening to me and knew that not one but two family members were abusing me. Certainly, back in the 1970’s there was an element of fear involved. But really mum pretended it wasn’t happening and if I had to be sacrificed then so be it. This truth was borne out 20 years later when the same attitude was adopted, not just by her, but by every person in my family. This is endemic in our society and we the victims are too afraid to speak such has been the repercussions of “telling secrets”. Fr. Banville is trying to give people like me courage to speak. I will never recover from the abuse and horrendous betrayal in my family. Someone has to address what everyone would prefer to ignore, sometimes denial is easier than truth.

As the world watches on,

In shock and horror

At the exposure of crimes

By men of the collar.


They wail and they weep,

At the betrayal of their faith,

Crying out angry words,

Giving voice to their hurt.


But they haven’t looked

To their own secret places,

Where sins of this nature,

Tar souls of many holy faces.


For sometimes the worst,

And the most depraved of all sinners,

Don’t wear the white collar,

And they’re the real winners.


They hide behind fatherhood,

And respectable positions,

Safe in the knowledge,

No-one dares question real conditions.


Children won’t speak,

Of unspeakable deeds,

Knowing never to bite,

The hand that feeds.


Again Margaret writes;


I am a scared and trembling child,

Stunted in growth for years upon years,

Sobbing for Mum who never came,

She chose to close her ears.


I am unlovable frightened teen,

In terrible aching need,

Of holding hugging and comfort,

After vicious sadistic deeds


I am empty and heartbroken,

I am full of grief and loss,

I am as disabled as many another,

But nobody sees through the gloss.


For Margaret’s sake and for the sake of the thousands like Margaret in our midst, for the sake of all victims and for the sake of our common humanity, it’s time to see through the gloss, wherever the gloss may be.

Ireland needs more people like Elizabeth– together with the victims she ranks among the heroines and heroes. The rest of us must begin to reflect on what we are going to do, as citizens, as human beings, to truly empower victims and people likeElizabethto break the cycle of abuse.

Most importantly, we must not silence the barely audible voices of these ‘other’ victims with words that amount to nothing but real deflection. On the contrary, we need to facilitate their voices. So let’s be clear, my argument is not about deflection, it’s about victims FULL STOP. It’s about children who suffered horrendously in the family unit, in that very space where children should be safest and it’s about the citizens ofIrelandensuring that our Government introduces response systems that will become so effective the world will look toIrelandas a template – the template.

It’s time to make it happen. Is feider linn.



7 Responses

  1. Pádraig McCarthy

    Statistics for sexual abuse of children & young people are notoriously difficult to establish. However, if we take the “One in Four” statement as a working approximation, it is glaringly obvious that sexual abuse by clerics or in institutions is only a small part of the situation. This does not mean, of course, that we should pay less attention to those aspects, but that, as Paddy Banville underlines, it is a tragedy and a travesty if we ignore the much wider societal problem, both in the abuse and in the reactions of those to whom it is reported. This is not just in Ireland – the One in Four organisation started in the UK before it came to Ireland.
    The organisational structures (and record keeping) of church, particularly the Catholic church, and of childcare institutions, means that abuse can more easily be targeted in these than in the family or in the wider community; and that redress and compensation are easier to achieve. Failures in the justice, social welfare, education and health systems in dealing with child abuse make it difficult to assess in those areas.
    The secrecy inherent in child abuse, in any sphere, clearly inhibits attempts to deal with it. For many people whose lives were not touched in any way by it, it can be difficult to envisage. I knew nothing whatever of child sexual abuse until about twenty years ago. The fact that so much abuse is perpetrated outside of institutional settings means that those who are abused may have very little possibility of having their voices heard. A child should be able to turn to his/her own family for protection; but when the abuse is experienced within that very environment, there seems little possibility of any avenue of escape.
    So all the reporting of abuse within the church in the past twenty years must have been an occasion of particular anguish for those who were and are abused in other settings. Any time I have spoken at Mass about child abuse, I try to keep in mind that perhaps 25% of the congregation may have had personal experience of it, and yet may feel totally ignored. Imagine if it is the case that about 25% of bishops were abused as children? or 25% of members of the Oireachtas? or 25% of the attendance at Croke Park or the Six Nations or Olympic Games?
    Statistics for the percentage of the adult and adolescent population, whether male and female, who carry out abuse are even more difficult to ascertain. Imagine if between 5% and 10% of any of those groups mentioned above are themselves abusers?
    Perhaps then it is providential that the matter has come to light within church settings, so that this may be a springboard for addressing the matter in the whole of society. As Paddy Banville looks to the hope that civil government in Ireland may become the template for the world in how to deal with this, so also the Catholic church could be a template for the government, and for other churches and religious organisations.
    As Paddy says, this in not in any way about deflection. It’s about learning the lessons to the fullest possible extent, and at the same time it’s about learning to do this with appropriate care that people who have not and do not abuse are not unjustly targetted.

  2. Martin

    I’ve never been convinced by the 1 in 4 claim. I don’t believe that one in four children are being sexually abused. I think that is an exaggeration.

  3. Margaret

    Fr.Paddy is a brave, honest,and knowledgeable man who is speaking out about an issue that so many people don’t want to address,that familial abuse was(and possibly still is) endemic in the society I grew up in 30years ago.I was one of those victims,and during the many years of counselling I met many more in similar situations.As I grew braver and began to speak more openly of my abuse others who knew me told me privately that they too had been abused within their families but were afraid to break silence,afraid of being ostracized by family,afraid of not being believed,the list of “afraids”is endless.As long as people like Martin disbelieve and deny the truth our children will never be safe from this atrocity that plagues our society.I challenge everyone who reads this not to speculate and offer opinions on this horror without first arming yourselves with the facts.Be brave,educate yourselves,read the articles and statistics, then contact appropriate organisations if you want them verified.Then contact someone like me and say”tell me your story”, and LISTEN.You all have a duty to us,your fellow humans,to stand up,face up and believe our truth,as hard as it may be.That way you help in the fight to protect the future of our children.

  4. Margaret

    Everything in the above article by Fr.Banville is true and honest.The statistics can be verified by any of the organisations dealing with this heinous crime.We,as a society,need to face the truth and tackle it with Fr. Banville, not criticise him for stating the truth.

  5. Dr Margaret Kennedy

    Fr Banville raises important issues. and the debate must continue. It is tragic that priests who are genuinely concerned and outraged by child sexual abuse/all abuse, should be seen as ‘deflecting’ or in denial about clergy abuse. the issues are complex.

    abuse in the family is still a taboo where secrecy/silence is mandated of the victim ususally. He/She is pressurised not to tell ‘outsiders’ and is rejected if they do.

    the church is struggling to comprehend and discover what ‘pastoral care’ means in the context of sexual abuse. with a divide between those sexually abused by clerics and those by others. each group seen as either polar opposites or the same. truth is each victim/survivor has a specific constallation of trauma unique to themselves. a pastoral care programme for a victim sexually abused by a family member may not address all the complexities for a victim of clergy sexual abuse and vice versa. thus ‘blanket’ responses are frought with difficulties.

    clergy sexual abuse survivors need the church to take PARTICULAR responsibility for them. since in doing so this will hopefully be part of what ‘accountability’ means. if the church subsumes clergy abuse victims into a pastoral care plan designed for ALL abuse victims they are in danger of giving the message that they either do not recognise the very great (additional effects) of clergy sexual abuse, or that they are deliberately trying to ‘bury’ victims and victims needs in the general statistic of abuse victims. clergy abuse victims may justifiably proclaim “they want to ignore , hide, or marginalise’ us”.

    the church, hiararchy and people, must grasp the reality…family abuse deserves more attention by us than has hitherto been offered, since as a ‘community of believers’ we are here to support each other.

    however, hiararchy must grasp the reality…clergy sexual abuse victims deserve particular attention as part of your ‘response of accountability’ and therefore it is clergy sexual abuse victims we must firstly consider.

    no victim wants a ‘battle’ for attention!

    pastoral care is needed for both groups but the groups are not ‘the same’ in terms of either trauma or recovery. they are different with different needs.

    no doubt about it…clergy sexual abuse victims/survivors are STILL hurting from the poor responses of bishops, church leaders and the vatican. their sense of trust, faith, belief has been shattered, and because the church they belonged to failed in its ‘duty of care’ and still fails.

    there is SO much work to be done. every hand needs to be on the plough. nothing can grow on stony ground.

  6. Sean O'Conaill

    I am deeply impressed by all contributions to this discussion, and strongly feel that the Holy Spirit is at work here.

    Taking up Margaret Kennedy’s theme of ‘all hands to the plough’, I am reminded that the original Irish “Towards Healing” document (the Irish Bishops’ Lenten reflection of 2005) proposed to mobilise all of the Irish people of God in support of all victims of sexual abuse. I was disappointed that this wider aspiration appeared to have been dropped in the “Towards Healing and Renewal” pastoral of March 2011, and sincerely hope this was simply an oversight.

    In any case it is surely obvious that the people of God as a whole need to address the particular effects of all forms of abuse (including serious bullying of all kinds) and to pray for the graces and the wisdom needed to deal with these.

    And we surely also need a far more inclusive understanding of Catholic ministry if all of the specialised gifts of pastoral care that are needed are to be discerned, developed and put to use. The rigid apartheid that is still present in our church, especially between the ordained and the unordained, is a huge obstacle to effective dialogue and collaboration. This has prevented us from conversing together regularly about these issues, and even created a ‘fear barrier’ against sitting down together.

    Is it too much to hope that the proposed ACP assembly in May could take up this theme – of mobilising the whole Irish church in the cause of a non-abusive and compassionate society – and of developing the church structures that could do that?

  7. Mary O Vallely

    I am also heartened by the passionate pleading for renewed and regular conversations on the prevention of abuse, the maximum empowerment of victims and Paddy Banville’s desire that Ireland becomes a template for the world in how its structures protect its children.
    I agree with Margaret Kennedy, an experienced and compassionate advocate for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, that the needs of this group require particular attention. I’m not sure if spiritual abuse has been properly addressed. How do we bring back to God those who have been damaged by some purporting to be His special servants?(not that God has ever left their side but how do we help to build up their trust and their hope again?)
    Sean O’Conaill’s point about the “rigid apartheid” between the ordained and the non-ordained echo my own fears exactly and is, I believe, one of the great problems facing us all. How do we listen, REALLY LISTEN when we have not been accustomed to listening or to being heard?
    The plea from “Margaret” to be brave and arm ourselves with the facts, to educate ourselves, to “believe our truth” is a good start as is this ACP site a good start and a very welcome step in the way forward. A “non-abusive and compassionate society”. Haven’t we got the perfect model in our Gospels?
    Mary V

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