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St. Barnabas Church in the Bronx

New York Irish Catholic faithful feel let down by Church in sex abuse response

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St. Barnabas Church in the Bronx

Irish mass-goers at a Bronx church on Good Friday expressed their disappointment and upset at the recent admissions of child sex-abuse cover-ups in Ireland.

“My faith is still strong in God and I’ll continue to go to Mass as long as I’m able, but my heart breaks every time I see in the news about the awful, unexplainable abuse that happened in Ireland, and here I suppose too, over the years,” said Ann Daly after attending the Stations of the Cross at St. Barnabas Church in the Bronx on Friday last.

Daly, an immigrant from Co. Roscommon who has been living in the Bronx for more than four decades, was visibly moved when she spoke about the abuse that many of her own generation suffered at the hands of clergymen back in Ireland.

“I suppose it was going on right under my nose back home when we were kids and I didn’t even know about it,” she speculated.

“We were told to respect the church and what it stood for, and by God we did just that.”

Daly, who lost her husband, Joseph three years ago, attends Mass at St. Barnabas every Sunday without fail.

“Do I look at the priests preaching from the alter in the same light I did back when I was younger, or even back before all these scandals broke out? No, but I still respect my parish priest, he is still the man representing God up there and I follow his lines,” she added.

Daly, who has three grown daughters, feels faith is essential in living life.

“I couldn’t do without it, and my three daughters are pretty good at going to Mass on Sundays although the youngest one doesn’t always get out of bed on a Sunday morning,” she laughs.

Deborah King and Laura Shields, both in their early twenties, spoke to the Irish Voice after “doing our Good Friday” duties.

“To be honest we don’t go to Mass every week but it’s Easter so we said we would make the effort,” smiles Shields, whose parents are from Co. Leitrim and Co. Cork.

King, whose grandparents are also Irish immigrants, said she would go to Mass more regularly if she wasn’t as “turned off” since the sex abuse scandals.

“I’ve no problem speaking out about this,” said King, a nurse.

“A lot of people don’t want to upset the priests because you can’t paint everyone with the same brush, and I don’t do that, but it’s just absolutely disgusting what went on behind closed doors, and it’s all only coning to light now.”

Shields, like her friend, is equally upset.

“My mother’s niece back in Ireland was abused for years and she didn’t tell anyone until she was in her late 30s, which was only about six years ago,” said Shields.

“I better not say the town in Leitrim but the parish priest there, who was a family friend would you believe, used to sexually abuse my young cousin after school and during church events.”

Shields, an office worker, added that her cousin has been getting counseling and has successfully managed to sue the church in Ireland.

“Well, it’s not about the money, is it? These creeps took advantage of young kids when their parents thought they were in trusty hands, and it messed them up for life,” Shields added.

The ladies said they continue to go to Mass more out of “Catholic guilt,” but they do admit they benefit somewhat from it.

“I like the sermon I have to say. It sometimes gives me hope when there is none,” said Shields.

“Me too,” agreed King. “But if I thought for one second that any of the priests I listen to at Mass were in any way responsible -- either by covering up or being an -- what would you say -- attacker, abuser I suppose -- then I wouldn’t be coming back here again,” said Shields.

Donal Tierney, a retired sanitation worker originally from Co. Limerick, goes to Mass as often as he can, but it’s bitter sweet for him.

Tierney told the Irish Voice he shed many a tear for the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy over the years.

“When the news first broke about the awful goings on I was shocked,” admitted Tierney.

“Then I was angry, and as the years went on and the news kept coming that young children were harassed, beaten and raped by these men of God I was hurt too, and that’s being honest.”

Tierney, who knows people abused by priests but said he would not discuss it, continued to go to Mass, but he has given up one thing.

“I’ve stopped going to Confession. I used to be a man who would go at least once a month because that’s what was drilled into us, but I stopped a few years ago because of all this,” he said.

“I don’t want to have a relationship with any priest, even if he is a good man, which I’m sure our parish priests here at St. Barnabas are. They are lovely men and do a great job, but I’d rather just go to Mass, listen to the word of God and then do my own thing.”

Irene Coffey, who stopped to see why Tierney was being interviewed, was more than happy to give her own opinion.

“Do you know what’s worse?” asked Coffey, a cleaning lady in her mid-sixties originally from Co. Donegal.

“The fact that the archbishops and the fellas higher up the ladder covered it up when these children came forward. They sent priests, monsters I call them, to different parishes around Ireland, and some of them ended up here in the U.S. doing exactly what they did back home, abusing children, boys and girls,” said Coffey angrily.

Referring to a recent story in the Irish Voice about Father Brendan Smyth, one of the Catholic Church’s most notorious’ sexual offenders, Coffey said, “That woman your paper interviewed, she was very brave to come forward. He ruined the life of her family, did you read it?” she asked Tierney, who responded with a sad nod.

“See, that’s what I mean. He was sent over here because the church at home was trying to cover up his wrong doings, and he violated young ,innocent American children.”

Coffey, who attends Mass every Sunday, will continue to go because “it’s my tradition,” but she added, “It doesn’t mean I have to like what went on all those years ago.”

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