Facing up to abuse in the Catholic Church

Holding out for justice /

BRENDAN – not his real name – says he is a survivor of sex abuse by a teacher at a prestigious Catholic grammar school in the north-west.

And he further claims that he is the victim of a cover-up by the authorities at St Columb’s College in Derry.

Holding back tears Brendan described how he and his father were given what he says was “the brush-off” in 1978 when they reported the sexual abuse to the then president of the college, Fr James Coulter – now deceased.

Now Brendan says St Columb’s College should be included in the inquiry into historical institutional abuse set up by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

He wants the college to acknowledge his abuse. To that end, eighteen months ago Brendan made a statement to police and as a result of their investigation he says he was told just last week that the teacher in question had died in 2007.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the college told The Detail: “I can say to you if someone has come to you, telling you something he is alleged to have said to a past principal of the school 30-40 years ago I certainly wouldn’t be aware of that.”

Brendan considers that response inadequate. He wants the college authorities to acknowledge the abuse he suffered there and that he and his father reported the abuse to them.

And Brendan’s sense of injustice was further heightened this week as he watched news reports of the Catholic Church in Ireland’s recent audit reports into child protection procedures in six dioceses – including the diocese of Derry.

He said the review of child protection procedures concentrated on present and future measures to safeguard children based on experiences in the past when child protection systems were proved to be less than adequate.

He said: “What happened to me in the past is not even acknowledged, I’m caught in some kind of limbo – it seems my childhood suffering is condemned to remain in the past.”

But Brendan believes that he was not alone in the abuse he alleged he suffered during his years at St Columb’s College.

“This teacher was a predatory paedophile,” he said. “I have no doubt other pupils suffered. I am speaking out in the hope others will come forward.”

Brendan says he complained about sex abuse by the teacher when he was a pupil there in the 1970s. He says the abuse lasted for a couple of school years until he was just over 14 years of age.

During the years of abuse, he told no one. His abuser made it clear he would not be believed. But eventually Brendan turned for help to a priest during confession. That priest told him to go home and inform his parents immediately.

Brendan said it wasn’t easy but he did tell his dad. It was 1978 and once his father knew what had been going on, they went together to see the then president of the college, Fr James Coulter.

“It was clear I was not believed,” said Brendan. “I was told that whatever happened did not affect the teacher’s ability to teach. I was basically told to run along back to class.”

Brendan says he father felt powerless and went to his grave 11 years ago “a tortured soul”, blaming himself for sending son Brendan to the prestigious college to improve his opportunities in life but that he hade ended up being sexually assaulted.

And his mother, who died four years ago, never knew about the abuse he suffered.

Brendan said both his parents had faith in the Catholic Church and its teachings. He said his father did not want to tell his mother because it “would destroy her”. So the secret of the abuse was never shared with her.

Brendan left the school after this meeting and like many other survivors of abuse tried to get on with his life. But memories of the abuse returned time and time again. The sense of injustice grew and nearly two years ago he decided to tell the police. A PSNI officer promised to investigate.

We have a copy of the detailed statement made by Brendan to the PSNI officer assigned to investigate his allegations. When he finished drafting his statement at home, Brendan signed and dated it March 15, 2010.

Brendan also provided the police with a newspaper cutting from 1990 in which it was alleged that the teacher in question had suddenly ‘disappeared’. Neighbours near the teacher’s home were quoted in the article as saying he had gone abroad.

But the newspaper said there was no comment from the school.

Then only last week, the police told Brendan that they had discovered that the teacher Brendan alleged had abused him had died in 2007.

“The police told me they met a brick wall in trying to investigate this teacher,” Brendan told the Detail. “But eventually they got a break through when a priest gave them some information about the whereabouts of the teacher.”

He went on: “The police told me that for the last nine years of his life the teacher had lived in Nazareth House, opposite St Columb’s old college grounds in Bishop Street.”

The Detail spoke to St Columb’s College president Sean McGinty and asked about the allegations made by Brendan and his claim that he and his father came to the school to complain in 1978, Mr McGinty responded: “It may well be, it may well be.”

We attempted to ask a question about the newspaper article in 1990 but Mr McGinty said he had “absolutely no comment to make” on that. He said it was water under the bridge and added: “If anyone feels grounds for complaint there is a legal system they can use.”

But when asked if the police had recently been in contact with the college, Mr McGinty said he had no comment to make.

Following the death of the teacher concerned, we asked Brendan what he wants now. He said he wanted the college to acknowledge his abuse.

And he also wants the Government inquiry into institutional abuse to cover the Derry college. He said: “To the best of my knowledge the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister inquiry into historical institutional abuse does not include St Columb’s College.

“I want them to reconsider that situation.”