Almost 300 people report abuse at Irish Spiritan schools

One past pupil of Blackrock College was allegedly victim of "relentless homophobia" during the '70s and '80s.

Spiritan school Blackrock College.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

CW: Mentions of sexual, emotional, physical and spiritual abuse as well as suicide.

On November 6, an RTÉ Radio Documentary entitled Blackrock Boys premiered, drawing attention towards the Irish Spiritan Congregation and its history of sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. While the production focused mainly on the devastating experiences of siblings Mark and David Ryan who attended Blackrock College during the ‘70s and ‘80s, it also highlighted that the religious Catholic order has paid over €5 million in settlement claims and towards support services since 2004.

Responding to the documentary’s release earlier this month, Fr Martin Kelly, the current Provincial of the Spiritans, confirmed that 233 people had made allegations of abuse against 77 Irish Spiritans in ministries throughout Ireland and overseas. In Blackrock College alone, 57 former pupils reported being abused on the school campus, and settlements have been made with 12 individuals.

Following these revelations, more people have come forward, with the number of alleged victims rising to almost 300. Among them are former students who recall experiencing “relentless homophobia” while at Blackrock College, one of Ireland’s most prestigious fee-paying secondary schools.

Gay man Leo O’Shaughnessy, now 51-years-old, desperately tried to hide his sexuality at school, but remembered being called a “pansy, queer, poofter” by some teachers – mainly lay people. Speaking to The Irish Times, he revealed that he tried to end his life twice as a result of the abuse he experienced.

“So many of the staff turned a blind eye to the bullying I suffered in school,” he said. “Thank God for the ones who didn’t. They’re the only reason I’m still alive.”

An Garda Síochána has appealed to anyone who wants to report a crime relating to the Irish Spiritan Congregation to contact them, while the Government is examining options for an inquiry into the schools. Independent experts have also been appointed to engage with survivors of historical abuse at the institutions.

Gardaí confirmed that The Sexual Crime Management Unit at the Garda National Protective Services Bureau have received “referrals in respect of abuse allegations relating to Spiritan Schools and the Spiritan Order”, and that all victims are being “supported and treated with sensitivity”.

People who wish to come forward can do so by emailing [email protected], phoning the Sexual Crime Management Unit on 01 666 3430 or 01 666 3435, or the 24/7 confidential and free Garda Child Sexual Abuse Reporting Line on 1800 555 22, or by visiting their local Garda station.

On behalf of the Irish Provincial of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, Fr Martin Kelly issued a public apology on November 16, explaining that a pilot Restorative Justice programme has been established, revealing “further histories of abuse in our schools and the horrifying impact this has had on some of our past pupils and their families, friends and the wider community”.

“We acknowledge that its effects have lasted a lifetime, with many still struggling to cope with it. This abuse took many forms: physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual. It was committed by members of the Irish Spiritans and lay staff in our schools,” Fr Kelly confirmed.

“It is clear from this pilot Restorative Justice programme that there are many more past pupils who were abused and who have not yet come forward.”

The priest continued by offering his “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 the schools. “I sincerely apologise for this. What was done to you as innocent children was cruel and indefensible. We are deeply ashamed of these actions,” he said.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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