Raped by a priest? Did you enjoy it?
As covered in last week’s disturbing BBC2 documentary This World: The Shame of the Catholic Church, in 1975, a young boy by the name of Brendan Boland accused Roman Catholic priest Fr Brendan Smyth of sexually abusing him. As a result, the boy was taken with his father to the intimidating surroundings of a monastery for questioning. He was then separated from his father and subjected to what can only be described as an inquisition, consisting of a gruelling cross-examination by three priests in the presence of canon lawyer John (now Cardinal Seán) Brady. Brendan Boland says in the documentary that he was alone and scared: he didn't know what was going to happen; he didn't know what questions they were going to ask him. He was just 14 years old. Cardinal Brady noted down the answers and the transcript is available to view (excerpt above and below; or forward to 32:50 on BBC iPlayer).
What is significant (and doesn't appear to have been commented upon at all in the media), is the extent to which the boy’s inquisitors focused on whether he may have been enjoying his sexual encounters with the abusive priest. He was asked relentlessly about his own sexual impulses and behaviour; if he'd ever done anything like this before with another boy; if he'd ever messed around with a grown man. When he responded no, they asked him (incredibly) why not, as though his own repressed sexual inclinations were obstructing the discovery of truth. They kept asking him if his 'body changed’, would he ‘get an erection’. They asked him if he ‘enjoyed it’; if ‘seed came out of his body’.
It is as though these priestly inquisitors were satisfying their own lustful fantasies through the lived experience of a maturing boy. Their own unsatisfied sexual needs seem to draw them together as a band of brothers, and their lack of inhibition is unseemly, almost incestuous. One wonders what primal urges were satisfied by this line of enquiry; what long-dreamed father-son, uncle-nephew fantasies were acted out in their minds. Why separate a vulnerable young boy from his own father? The boy’s fear is subsumed to their self-interest, as though they were envious of his carnal experience. Sex jealousy is largely based on an anxious, infantile, exclusive possessiveness and is aggravated by the unbounded greediness of this type of mind which is a product of an exclusively patriarchal culture.
Boland was understandably shaken by the nature of the questions. Throughout all of these paedophile inquiries involving the Roman Catholic Church all over Europe, we hear again and again the excuse that there were no ‘guidelines’ in place to deal with these sorts of allegations. But the chief inquisitors of the Irish Roman Catholic Church appear to be ignorant of natural justice and devoid of compassion in their treatment of Brendan Boland. The man asks now, almost 40 years on, what kind of questions are these to ask a 14-year-old boy? He was forced to swear an oath, on the Bible, which the Cardinal now insists was only to ‘give weight’ to the boy’s testimony. No 14-year-old boy would have viewed it so: the oath was to ensure silence and secrecy; it was to protect Fr Smyth and the reputation of the Irish Roman Catholic Church. The Word of God was deployed as an instrument of manipulation.
We are not, of course, in possession of all the facts. There have been diverse responses to this BBC documentary: some say Cardinal Brady must go; others say that it was a warped presentation which sought to present him in a bad light. Having considered both perspectives, His Grace wishes to focus on the children.
This transcript is damning not merely because Cardinal Brady was given the names and addresses of other victims which he apparently decided not to pursue, but because the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland clearly sought to intimidate, humiliate and bully young and vulnerable teenagers who had already endured months and years of torture and rape. That Cardinal Brady was party to an inquisition which sought to impugn the victims’ motives and probe deeply into their sexual identity in order to deflect blame from the abuser offends every notion of justice and appals every sense of compassion. The Cardinal was not concerned with pastoral care: he was party to a process of psychological and emotional abuse after the victims had endured the trauma of physical and sexual abuse. One needs no ‘guidelines’ to deal with this: if the shepherd should care for his sheep, he should care all the more for his lambs.
There is never an excuse for bullying: Cardinal Seán Brady must go, and go now. That he cannot see this is manifest evidence of his unfitness for being Primate of All Ireland.