A statement by Mr Colm O’Gorman, Director of One In Four, following the formal settlement at the High Court in Dublin, today (Wednesday) of an action taken by him against the Catholic Bishop of Ferns and in response to the statement made before the Court by legal representatives of the Apostolic Administrator of the Ferns Diocese which was a condition of that settlement.
“It’s really hard to put into words the significance of this day for me.
“It is 22 years since I was first sexually abused by Fr. Sean Fortune and 8 years since I reported that abuse to the Gardai. Its 4 years since Fr Fortune’s suicide. Finally, on this the 9th April 2003, I can say that I feel a sense of having achieved some real and significant level of justice. I cannot understate the significance of that feeling. From the very first moment I made my decision to report what I had experienced, I wanted above all to have the burden of responsibility for that abuse to be taken from me.
“Initially, I believed that Fr Fortune was uniquely and wholly responsible for the rape. I believed that I was the only person he had abused, that I was alone in all of this. It was with a growing sense of horror and hurt that I learnt in the years following my initial complaint of the extraordinary levels of denial, refusal to act and negligence on the part of the then and subsequent Bishop of Ferns. As the Garda investigation developed it became clear that there were many, many other victims of Fr Fortune and indeed, as we now know, of clerical abuse, in the Diocese of Ferns.
“Today, for the very first time following huge public and media pressure, the Catholic Church has finally acknowledged what many in Irish society had believed for a number of years: that the Church authorities were negligent in how they handled and responded to cases of clerical sexual abuse and that such negligence had led to the abuse of more and more children. What was finally and fully acknowledged by the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Ferns, Bishop Eamonn Walsh, in his statement this morning is that the failure to act upon the threat posed to me by Fr. Sean Fortune was directly responsible for that abuse, that if they had acted earlier I would not have been sexually abused, that such abuse was avoidable and preventable, that they were negligent.
“That such an admission of negligence should have been heard before the High Court earlier this morning, is for me an historic moment. I hope above all else that it will mark an end to the adversarial and legalistic approach adopted by Bishops and Church leaders to people who have experienced rape and sexual abuse perpetrated by priests.
“From a personal perspective, I have to say that the approach adopted by the Catholic Church in my own case has been a source of very real hurt and pain, hurt that was entirely avoidable had the Church faced its responsibilities in a more Christian and compassionate way. Had they simply come forward and acknowledged their failures and negligence in a clear and honest way, many people, victims and others, could have been saved significant further abuse and hurt. It has at times been surreal to witness Bishops speak of the need to reach out to victims whilst at the same time being in receipt of letters from the Church and their lawyers that were intimidating, insulting and vindictive. That the Church has a right to defend itself in any legal action is beyond dispute but the manner in which they have defended themselves in mine and other cases is reprehensible. It makes a mockery of their benign expressions of care and compassion delivered more often than not from a pulpit.
“That said, I now find myself in a place I could never have imagined. The day has finally arrived when the boy I was, when I was first raped by a Catholic Priest, has been vindicated and acknowledged, when those directly responsible for that rape through their acts of negligence have finally acknowledged that gross failure. I give thanks for that acknowledgement, however difficult it has been to achieve. I accept Bishop Walsh’s statement in good faith. I value it and I value the uncompromising way in which it has finally been made. But I also acknowledge that it is the least that any person harmed in such a way has an absolute right to expect from those responsible.
“I am also aware that for many of my fellow citizens, the one in four Irish women and men sexually abused as children, such levels of acknowledgement are impossible. For many of the over one million Irish people sexually abused as children, there is little chance of their achieving justice in such a meaningful way. They have been abused in their families, in their communities and in places where there is no institution to hold to account. That I was failed as a boy is now a matter of record. That as a society, we have all failed many of our most vulnerable citizens is beyond dispute. I hope that as we develop more meaningful understandings and awareness of child sexual abuse, we can begin to address this failure and finally end the isolation and devastation of so many of our sisters, brothers, parents, children, friends, neighbours, lovers and colleagues.
“I also hope that this day will make it more possible for those who have been abused to name their hurt and to come forward to seek support and care, just as the incredible courage of those who spoke before me made it possible for me to speak so publicly of my own abuse. We must pay tribute to the many people who spoke out at a time when Irish society was less able, maybe even less willing to hear, at a time when the pressure to stay silent was overwhelming.
“When I first launched this civil action in 1998, my primary intent was to seek a disclosure of what had happened in this case. It was to finally force the facts of what I believed to be the gross failures of the Catholic Church to be fully and publicly acknowledged. Failures that I believed went all the way to the very top of the Catholic Church, to the Vatican. I initially took this action against two named defendants: The Bishop of Ferns and The Papal Nuncio, inter alia the Pope. I have now had to abandon my action against the Vatican Authorities. The Papal Nuncio has always indicated that he does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court and that as a diplomat he has legal immunity in any civil action. His lawyers indicated that he would challenge the jurisdiction of the court and the best legal advice available to me has indicated that he would succeed. It was also made clear to me that should I fail in the action that the Papal Nuncio could and in all likelihood would seek to recover costs. This makes it impossible for me to continue in this regard. It remains profoundly shocking to me that the representative of the Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has used his privileged position as a diplomat to refuse to answer questions about what the Vatican knew about the abuse of children perpetrated by one of their priests. Above all, I think this speaks volumes about the Vatican’s continuing failures to respond effectively and meaningfully to the hurts and concerns of the wider Church. It is tantamount to moral abandonment of its own flock.
“One final, significant factor that has made this settlement possible is the establishment of the Ferns Inquiry. The fact that the State has lifted the burden of uncovering the facts of these cases means that I, and I hope others similarly abused, can hand responsibility for the uncovering of the failures in child protection and criminal law in these cases to the State, where that responsibility rightly belongs. I urge all those involved in these cases to come forward and work to ensure that this Inquiry is successful in its work. It is vital work as I believe it will determine the truth of what happened in Ferns and most importantly inform how we proceed in the many hundreds of cases beyond Ferns.
“It is now finally possible for me to put down the personal burden in all of this. I can now leave behind me the battle for justice in my own name, the battle for the right to have the harm caused me named and owned in full by those responsible. It is a day for relief and release, a day when I can, with the continuing love and support of my partner, my family, my friends and my colleagues here at One In Four, now move in one more way beyond the trauma of rape and abuse. I know that I will continue to need their love and support as I seek to move more fully to recovery and healing. I feel blessed that I have been given so much support by them and by so many others.
“In February 1995, when I first reported my abuse to the Gardaí, I was incredibly lucky to have the support of my family, especially of my sister Barbara and my father, Sean. Barbara sat with me through the making of my statement; she held me safe and secure at a time when I had to revisit that most vulnerable and devastating experience. I am forever grateful to her for her strength and love.
“My father, Sean, was an inspiration to me. He supported me in ways I could never have imagined. His integrity and powerful, loving heart remain an inspiration to me to this day. They always will. He sadly died 10 months after I made my statement. When he found out he was dying, he told me that he only wanted to live long enough to see this through with me. He died too soon for that but I know he has been with me. His memory, his love has seen me through this.
“Indeed, I also know that I could not have kept going without the incredible support, respect and goodwill extended to me by hundreds of people I don’t even know, many of whom simply met me in the street and told me not to give up. Without them too this would have been almost impossible to achieve.
“Finally, I want to acknowledge the role the media itself played and continues to play in achieving justice for those who have been sexually abused, by shining a powerful light into the darkest corners of Irish society, by demanding answers from those responsible, by informing and shaping public opinion. I salute the journalists, broadcasters, editors and publishers who showed courage, foresight and tenacity in revealing the truth of clerical sexual abuse. I urge you to continue to take up that challenge as other dark corners come to light. In particular I must mention Alison O’Connor, Sarah Macdonald and Mary Rafferty whose tireless pursuit of the truth in these cases has achieved so much.
“So today that personal battle ends. The battle has been such a demanding and emotionally draining experience that I find it hard to imagine what my life will be like now that it is over. What I know beyond doubt is that I am now free to focus all of my energy and attention to my role here as director of One In Four and to working with this organisation of extraordinary people to support others who have experienced sexual abuse, wherever it might have occurred. I am passionately committed to this challenge and will continue to strive to ensure that other people who have been abused also get the acknowledgement and support to which they are entitled.”