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Ireland: Interview: Ciaran Byrne meets Andrew Madden

A voice of hope for every victim of abuse

The Sunday Times, 28 September 2003

He’s a different man — breathing confidence, in control, sometimes funny and self-deprecating. Andrew Madden has somehow emerged from a 25-year nightmare in one piece.

When I first met Madden he was 29 and a wreck. He was gripped by paralysing bouts of anxiety and fear and was constantly on the verge of tears. He trusted nobody.

In a frightened whisper he told me he had been abused by a priest during his childhood and that he had recently been paid a sum of money by the church after he threatened to sue.

It is nine years since The Sunday Times broke the story of how Madden had been paid IR£27,500 by the Catholic church to cover up three years of sexual abuse by one of its priests. Forcing him to sign a letter of confidentiality, officials believed the crimes of Madden’s abuser, Father Ivan Payne, would never come to light and a few thousand pounds would put a stop to the potentially shattering publicity.

The reaction to The Sunday Times disclosure was breathtaking: an angry denial by the church that any money had changed hands, including a phone call from one senior cleric involved in the deal. In rather unchurchly mode he rasped: “You’re f**king liars if you print that. That boy doesn’t know what he’s saying.”

I played Madden the tape a few days later and he broke down in tears. The denials were dutifully reported by newspapers the next day. Madden’s story was ignored.

It was time for the next phase. Despite his worrying fragility, Madden’s desire to pursue justice was unbreakable. He took the courageous step of revealing his identity, complete with the documents outlining the church’s grubby little transaction.

And so the wheel began to turn. Slowly at first, but leading to an inevitable climax: a garda investigation into Payne, the charging of the priest with the sexual abuse of Madden and others. Payne served four and a half years of a six-year prison sentence and was released in 2002.

The dam had been breached. As Payne was investigated, dozens of other abuse cases emerged, including some that had been perpetrated in state institutions.

Many more are now or will be the subject of tribunals, including the Commission to Inquire into Childhood Abuse to be headed by Sean Ryan, a senior counsel. Many people have Madden to thank for triggering the process.

As with other paedophile priests, the church helped Payne at every step. They instigated a cover-up, moving him from Dublin’s Sutton parish when the abuse came to light to a job counselling married couples inside Archbishop’s House. Even after providing considerable funds to buy Madden’s silence, the help didn’t end. The imprisoned Payne continued to receive visits from his superiors. After his release they ensured his comfort — a luxury Dublin flat and a weekly allowance.

Tabloid and talk-show fury rumbled the paedophile priest and he went to ground. Still the church helped one more time. Sources say Payne, with church assistance, was moved out of Ireland earlier this year and has been laicised.

Madden has no desire to meet Payne because he fears it could only be of benefit to the paedophile. “Even when he apologised in court, I couldn’t help feeling he was doing it to lessen the sentence. It was nothing to do with me — more an attempt to impress the judge,” he says.

What people have to accept is there is another Fr Payne lurking underneath — a master of manipulation — and I have no doubt that he is the exact same today. It is his turn to bear the cross I have had to carry for so long.”

Madden is now 38, but his life is only just beginning in earnest. He wrote a draft of a book nine years ago but was rejected by almost every publisher in Ireland. “It’s a small country so I think they were very hesitant indeed to pick such a subject,” he says.

Penguin had no qualms. They called Madden back a day after he contacted them and began work immediately. Altar Boy: A Story of Life After Abuse, will be the first Irish title in the new imprint of Penguin Ireland when it goes on sale this week.

It is not for the fainthearted, but it should be required reading. It provides a searingly detailed account of almost two decades in which his battle against the most powerful institution in the land almost overwhelmed him.

The book speaks out for every victim of abuse unwilling or unable to talk about their ordeals. It shows there can be a life afterwards.

Madden says: “I just wanted to explain what it was like for a 14-year-old boy to be going through all this and being totally unable to tell anyone even though I knew it was wrong.

“I just wanted to write down what that felt like. In many ways I feel my story has made it much easier and much more acceptable for kids to tell someone the minute something like this starts.”

All Madden ever wanted was to be a priest. Instead of playing football and chasing girls, his childhood years were spent helping at his local church in Sutton in south Dublin, as an altar boy and eventually training the new ones.

Payne arrived in Sutton in 1977 when Andrew was 12. Flashy by priestly standards — he drove fast cars and wore casual clothes instead of stuffy black — Payne took the child under his wing. The abuse started almost immediately.

He got Madden to help out at his house with cleaning and household chores. He bought him chips sometimes, and even let him drive his car during trips to the beach. For three years he molested him.

Terrified of telling his family, Madden eventually plucked up the courage to reveal his ordeal to a teacher, Ken Duffy, who emerges as one of the few heroes in this story. The outraged teacher went to Archbishop’s House in Dublin and told Payne’s superiors. The priest was moved a few months later. The gardai were not contacted.

It was the beginning of a downward spiral that would derail Madden’s life for almost 15 years. Despite the abuse, he still wanted to enter the priesthood but he was rejected at the last interview stage. No reason was given.

Crippling depression and heavy drinking dominated his life as relationships collapsed and jobs ended in failure. Self-conscious and paranoid that people considered him weak and strange, he quit his job as a quality control supervisor in a frozen food factory. He moved to London but his drinking problems became worse.

Two years after he returned to Dublin in 1995, Madden went into a recovery programme and has not had a drink since. He set up an IT business and, with the help of friends, has gradually pieced his life together.

Life now revolves around a close-knit group of friends in Dublin and London, including Colm O’Gorman, a high-profile anti-abuse campaigner of the One in Four organisation. Pubs are out but the gym has become a surrogate social club. He says: “I would definitely say I am happy now. I’ve never been able to say that before.

“The process of learning to get over the alcohol addiction was incredible because it not only involved drinking but an examination of everything in my life. I just wanted the mayhem to stop.”

His hope now is that the various inquiries into the abuse of children by church and state will lead to some kind of reckoning for church leaders and those who committed the criminal acts.

He blames Noel Dempsey, the education minister, for the resignation of Justice Mary Laffoy from the commission now headed by Ryan. In a resignation letter leaked to the media, she angrily accused Dempsey of obstruction in failing to provide the necessary funds to carry out her investigations.

Madden says: “I hope that when her interim report is published in November she repeats what she said in her letter. Dempsey should go now. His behaviour has been an insult to all the victims.

“In fact, most politicians have behaved badly during the whole process. I wrote to Bertie Ahern in 1998 asking for an inquiry and he refused (Ahern reportedly doubted an inquiry would be fair, appropriate or practical). What a coward. Luckily there were braver people in his cabinet who persuaded the government to act.”

He doubts that the church has reformed. “I have not seen one shred of evidence that the behaviour of the church has changed at all. They have had so many opportunities over the last 10 years to be open. But they have obstructed and blatantly lied at every turn with the sole purpose of protecting the institution and their own welfare.

“That has been their number one priority from day one. The victims were and have been forgotten.”

Earlier this year Madden received an unexpected letter from Archbishop Desmond Connell requesting a personal meeting. “He offered me what I believe was a sincere apology for the way things had been handled. It’s hopelessly late — but at least it’s something.”