A distinguished US physician has vividly described how she was abused by a priest predator when she was studying in Ireland in the 1970s and how Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin eventually came to her aid and ensured the priest was punished.
Dr Rosemary McHugh, now 70, has written her story for a chapter on a new book on restorative justice in the church. She had filed criminal charges against her abuser, who has since passed away.
Dr McHugh, a well-known family physician and frequent commentator on church issues, grew up as the child of Irish immigrants from Mayo who moved to Chicago.
She was one of three children in a devoted Catholic home. Her brother entered the priesthood for a while but later left.
She describes how after receiving her medical degree from Trinity College in Dublin In 1972 she trained and worked in Dublin including at the Rotunda.
She chose Trinity for her medical training as she liked the fact that it had balanced classes of women and men. She says she was deeply grateful for her excellent medical education at Trinity College, Dublin.
While in Dublin and deeply religious, she sought spiritual guidance and befriended Father Oliver Powell who was always very kind to her and was her confessor.
When he was not available she also went to confession to, her later abuser, Father Desmond McCaffrey, a Carmelite priest in St Teresa’s, off Grafton Street.
She describes the sexual abuse in her chapter, “The only time that I ever met Fr. McCaffrey outside of the confessional was the time that the sexual assault occurred. At the end of confession one day, the priest invited me to an evening devotion that he was giving in a few days to lay people and nuns at a convent in Dublin.
“It was on a rare night that I was not on duty, and I was glad to be free to attend. After the service, Fr. McCaffrey asked me for a lift back to St Teresa’s. I agreed. On the way, as I drove by my flat, the priest said he would like to see my flat and have a cup of tea before he returned to where he lived. I never thought there would be a problem.
“After making a pot of tea, I turned around towards Fr. McCaffrey and was stunned to see him standing in front of me with dropped pants around his ankles and masturbating into his handkerchief. He then sat down on the couch and continued masturbating into his handkerchief. I had never seen a man masturbating before.
“I was shocked and silent. He told me that he regularly saw a young woman for spiritual direction and they would go to her bedroom, undress, and go to bed together. He also mentioned that his favorite book was 'The Little Prince' and that his name in religion was Fr Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
“I was surprised that he showed no shame or guilt and made no apology to me. I gave up the thought of a cup of tea and just said that I would drive him home. I said nothing more. He pulled up his pants, and I drove him back to St Teresa’s.”
Feeling deeply upset and shaken she said she wondered what she might have done to cause it and confessed the incident to Father Powell who she thinks did not believe her story at first but who said he would chastise his fellow priest. She said nothing was done at official level at the time.
Doctor McHugh writes: “I can completely understand victims of clergy sexual abuse who never talk about it, or only get the courage to talk about it thirty or more years later.”
The incident haunted her and in 2006 during a retreat in California she told a Jesuit priest Fr. David Smolira, S.J. who was heading up the retreat.
“During the retreat, I did share my story of what happened to me in Ireland. Fr. Smolira told me that I had experienced a sexual assault. That was the first time that I was able to put a name on what happened to me, in my experience with Fr. Desmond McCaffrey.”
In 2010 she says she was back in Ireland and discovered to her shock that Father McCaffrey was still ministering in the same church.
She called Father Powell, who said he remembered the incident well and who gave her the address of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin whom she wrote to.
“As soon as the Archbishop read my letter, he called me on my cell phone and wanted to meet and hear my story. We were able to meet at the Archbishop’s House. I was able to share my story. The Archbishop was an attentive listener. At the end of an hour, the Archbishop told me that he would get back to me.
“Shortly after I arrived home to Chicago, I got an email from the Archbishop, from the Carmelite Provincial Fr. James Noonan, O.C.D., and from a lady, Dr. Johanna Merry, who worked as a pastoral counselor on cases of clergy sexual abuse for the Church. I learned later that Dr. Merry had been a nun and now was married.
“After I sent Dr. Merry my story, she referred my case directly to the police, which was the policy of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and which, I believe, needs to be the policy in the United States and around the world. After communicating several months with the Dublin police, my case was then transferred to the Sexual Crimes Unit in Dublin and I worked with the Dublin Detective Unit.
“Dr Merry presented my complaint to Fr. McCaffrey, his Superior, and his Provincial. Of most concern to me about Fr. McCaffrey had been his apparent lack of conscience, with no apology and no apparent remorse at the time of the sexual assault. He was exhibitionist in his behavior towards me and acted as one who felt invulnerable and protected by the power of 'Holy Mother Church,' with no need to be accountable for his actions.
“I believe that Fr. McCaffrey only admitted to masturbating in front of me, and apologized when Dr. Merry read him my complaint, because he knew that my advocate, Fr. Powell, was still in active ministry and vividly recalled the situation of the sexual assault years previously. Dr. Merry said that the body language of Fr. McCaffrey was inappropriate and he was smiling while apologizing, knowing that the Church would protect him.
“Fr. McCaffrey was removed from active ministry and I received a report annually on how he was being monitored. In November, 2014, I received emails from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and from Dr Johanna Merry to inform me that Fr Desmond McCaffrey had just passed away. It was very kind and thoughtful of Archbishop Martin and of Dr. Merry to inform me of that. It was also very kind of Dr Merry to tell me that she went to the priest’s wake and brought a white rose in remembrance of our desire for healing to take place, and for Fr McCaffrey to rest in peace.
“As I have learned more about the dynamics of the predator clergy, it is of interest to note that Fr. McCaffrey’s written version of what he remembers happening was very different from my version.
“He did admit that the whole episode was vague to his memory, and he referred to me as Rosaleen, instead of my name Rosemary. However, he created a very different scenario. He said that I invited him up for beer, rather than him inviting himself up to my flat for a cup of tea. He said that we had 2 beers each and one thing led to another.
“These lies of his have helped me to understand how hopeless victims might feel when they cannot prove that an event happened the way that it did, since priests have been put on such a pedestal, that they are believed over the victims, especially if the victim’s reputation can be discredited by the sexual predator clergy and by the Church. I am very grateful to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and to Fr. Oliver Powell for their support in bringing the truth to light, for the sake of the protection of others.”