I returned from a few months in an old Ireland. An Ireland where the brutality of the Catholic Church is on display again. Men who have endured pain for years, who have been abused in the pipelines for the upper echelons of Irish society, fee-paying schools, announce yet another judgment.
Inevitably, because of where this abuse happened, there are comments about class and privilege, but I’ve been confused by some of them, and wonder what’s relevant to move the conversation forward, rather than segment it. I guess the fact is that Catholic clerics abusing children were happening everywhere. What we don’t know is why. Everyone knows that fee-paying schools are places where privilege is both served and created. But a young middle-class boy is probably not very aware of his position in the social strata, even if others around him are. These are the children we are talking about, children who went to learn their lessons in places where they should have been protected and encouraged, and instead they were preyed upon and violated.
I think where class is relevant is in terms of how untouchable these clergymen are. Their insult was not limited to a cynicism towards those whom they suspected of not daring to emit a glance. This shows the impunity with which they operated, that they believed they could abuse whomever they wanted without consequence or repercussion, even though some of the children they abused were children of the powerful. The worst part is that they were right. Whether you are a politician, judge, surgeon or professor, your status in Ireland was always overshadowed by the irresponsible Catholic clergymen who brutalized countless people on this island and wielded – and still wield – the power of our Constitution over our courts, of our classrooms to our communities, from our playgrounds to our parliament.
It must also be a hugely conflicted feeling for the boys who have been victimized, who have been made into men, who have been inculcated and fueled by the internal propaganda that all fee-paying schools have about their specialness and how they came from. a medium that is of a self-proclaimed superior standard. How then do people reconcile this statement with their experience of abuse, bullying, homophobia or violence? If there’s one characteristic that defines the middle classes, it’s an obsession with privacy. When this framework is so rigid, how do you become vulnerable? Claiming to be a victim? Breaking a narrative about everything perfect as a white picket fence? This is another type of line overrun. It is another type of revelation. It takes incredible bravery to disrupt the fictions we have about our socialization, to say, guess what, it wasn’t going so well, I was tormented in this seemingly good place.
We know this culture is so entrenched because only now are we hearing these stories in droves in the general public, about the horrors in places that are held in high regard by many. There are many levers of shame that abusers – especially abusers within the Catholic Church – pull: gender, bodies, sex and sexuality, invented sins. We now know that the class has been used in various ways by pedophile clergy to silence, shame and stigmatize. It was used against women and girls, the poor and the marginalized who had no voice in society. It was also used against those who came from privilege, or sought to achieve it through education, for whom speaking out would distort preconceived ideas about perfection, success, and happiness.
I think a lot of people have thought a lot during the pandemic years, about the trajectory of their lives, their childhood, how they were socialized, the things that happened to them that led them to certain places. Over the past decade, Ireland has created an empathetic framework of social discourse rooted in breaking silences, vulnerability, sharing painful experiences and trying to make things right. The greatest legacy of marriage equality and the repeal of the 8th movement is not just changing the Constitution, it has changed the conversation and changed us. We have gone from a society that did not want to hear anything to a society that wants to listen.
[ ‘He was a vicious paedophile, a horrible man’: Abused pupils share their experiences ]
These men who delve into their past are in search of healing. We are all responsible for participating in their healing. To listen with kindness. To defuse shame and fear. For opening our hearts, no matter what, and saying, what happened to you was wrong. It’s not your fault, you didn’t deserve it. It was not only a scandal but also a crime.
If there’s one thing we know, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, how much money you had, what kind of advance you got or who your parents were, you weren’t at safe from the torments inflicted by abusive Catholic clerics. this earth.
I also know that it is more difficult for men to open up. It’s just. And it’s because of the way we’re socialized, in which segregationist schools play a huge role. But the more pain we let out, the more that pain spreads, if we have the courage to listen, not to judge and, above all, to demand accountability.