The latest chapter in Ireland’s seemingly perpetual crisis of child abuse in religious institutions is now being written. We have cycled through abuse in orphanages, industrial schools and Magdalene Laundries, only to now contend with abuse at literally the highest order of all.
The name Blackrock College reeks of privilege and upper-class mores. The South Dublin institution was as close to the equivalent of the playing fields of Eton as you could get. Among its alumni are Eamon de Valera, founder of the 26-county Irish state who ruled over Ireland for decades, and Archbishop John Charles McQuade, who almost single-handedly imposed his puritanical control over the Irish church for decades.
Surely, there could be no whiff of pedophile activity in such an established school.
Think again, sadly. Thanks to a courageous group of former pupils who came forward and named names, the scandal has exploded across Irish society like the previous massive cases of abuse, but with a cri de coeur as to when or if this will ever end.
It is difficult to know. The scandal has now moved into the mainstream and becomes a serious issue, even among those who considered the previous ones as aberrations in working-class institutions.
But when 300 sexual abuse charges have now been made against different Spiritan priests who taught in Blackrock it becomes impossible to just look away. The Irish Times reported this week, “More than 300 people have made abuse allegations against at least 78 Spiritan priests, a spokesman for the religious congregation has said. He also said the latter figure may increase slightly when all recent contacts have been fully processed.”
Do not believe for a moment that Blackrock is the only highbrow education institution to have had abusive priests in Ireland. Now that the scandal has moved from downstairs to upstairs, there will be many other orders coming under scrutiny.
The Times report notes that the number of abuser priests may rise.
“Some people making allegations have done so directly to the Spiritans, while others may have gone to the gardai…and we know that a number have gone initially to the independent expert on Restorative Justice, Mr. Tim Chapman,” the spokesman for Blackrock College said.
The reality is that two of the men most responsible were Blackrock-connected.
De Valera was educated and taught math there. He never met a bishop he didn’t like but he was specifically very close to McQuade, allowing him to enter outrageous church restrictions into the Irish constitution.
Decades later McQuade was accused by leading journalist John Cooney of being a pedophile himself, and there is strong evidence to back that claim. Between them, the two saw off any attempt to expose abuse.
The late Father Edward Flanagan, founder of the charity Boys Town, on a visit to Ireland, slammed Irish authorities for their harsh system but was told to shove off.
And so it festered, right into the present. There is no question that there are other highbrow schools where a new flood of victims will be found.
When it comes to abusive Catholic priests in Ireland the merry-go-round shows no sign of stopping, unfortunately.