Mary Raftery is a producer/director with the national broadcasting company RTE and a former columnist for the Irish Times. Producer of documentaries such as the award winning States of Fear (1999) and Cardinal Secrets, she is championed by many journalists as a fearless critic of both Church and State. However she has been allegations against religious orders that are demonstrably false - up to and including claims that they were responsible for the deaths of children in their care.
Her stated view is that those involved in physical and sexual abuse in institutions run by religious orders, "were not just a few bad apples," implying that the abuse in these institutions was systematic. And she is on the record saying that the Church should have no involvement in the running of schools and hospitals.
Her career as a journalist began in RTE. By the mid-80s she was working as a producer on Today Tonight, and she continued working on its successor Prime Time. But it was "States of Fear" that catapulted her to prominence. Its searing indictment of religious institutions sent shockwaves through the country and forced the Government to set up structures to deal with the allegations.
However in the wake of the follow up book she wrote in 1999 with collaborator Dr Eoin O'Sullivan, "Suffer The Little Children", which goes into greater detail about the abuse suffered in residential homes, questions began to emerge about the accuracy of Raftery's research. Columnist Breda O'Brien challenged some of the research for the book, pointing out that the authors failed to cross check stories told to them by former inmates. She cites the example of a coroner''s report which contradicts a claim made in the book about a young boy dying at the hands of the Christian Brothers in Artane. She also refers to Mary Raftery's claim that a boy who alleged he had been been raped by Brother Joseph O'Connor, waited outside the Mater Hospital while the Brother was dying and then went in and lifted the sheets off his body to make sure he was dead. Ms. O'Brien points out that Brother Joseph did not die in the Mater Hospital!
Furthermore in an article in March 2005, Raftery implied that Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, the Sisters of Charity nun better known as Sister Stan, who founded the Focus Ireland charity, knew about allegations of sexual abuse in the 70s when she working in St. Joseph's Industrial School in Kilkenny. Sister Stan has denied the claim and her account has been corroborated by Edward Murphy, a childcare worker who alerted her to physical abuse that was taking place. Raftery has refused to apologise for making this claim.
Members of the religious orders have also hit out at some of Raftery's claims, arguing that her commentary on cases lacks balance. Sister Una O'Neill of the Sisters of Charity, responding to further allegations by Raftery that other members of her order knew about sexual abuse, has pointed out that in a High Court ruling on the abuse in question, the judge Mr. Justice Finnegan, accepted that the Sisters did not know about sexual abuse.
Brother Edmund Garvey of the Christian Brothers has also taken issue with Raftery's claim that the order "had spent years denying the contents of their files", including evidence of physical and sexual abuse. Brother Garvey pointed out that the order had acknowledged the evidence and had apologised six years before Raftery's article in 2004. Responding to allegations by Raftery that some Brothers had actually admitted sexual abuse during an investigation of the Brothers industrial school in Artane, Brother Garvey continued: "The leaders of the Christian Brothers in Ireland have no evidence available to them that 'Brothers had actually admitted during the (Artane) investigation (by the gardai) that they had sexually abused boys. If Ms Raftery is aware of such names, as she seems to claim, then in the public interest, congregational leadership and the gardai ought to be informed."
Her response has been to suggest that critics are deniers of child abuse and Church apologists. She has also suggested that columnists such as O'Brien have had privileged access to the archives of religious orders, an allegation which the latter vehemently denies.
Public Controversy regarding the Death of Patsy Flanagan
For many years now, Mary Raftery has been treated with kid gloves by the media and by the political establishment in Ireland. She has become a sacred cow immune from criticism - a claim that she herself made regarding a previous generation's attitude to the Catholic Church. The last time she was seriously challanged was in late 1999/ early 2000 regarding claims made in her book "Suffer the Little Children" - itself a follow-up to the "States of Fear documentaries.
My article Mary Raftery and the Death of Patsy Flanagan relates to a long controversy in several newspapers in 1999/2000 regarding the death of a boy in Artane Industrial School in 1951 - allegedly at the hands of the Christian Brothers. It is one of the few times in which the atrocity stories purveyed by Ms. Raftery were subjected to critical scrutiny by the media. The subject is treated from a slightly different angle in The Death of Patsy Flanagan: Blood Libel and the Christian Brothers
Mary Raftery and Corrupting the Historical Record
For some months in 2004, Mary Raftery and historian Daire Keogh engaged in a dispute (in "History Ireland" and the Irish Times) regarding the 1946 visit to Ireland by Fr Edward Flanagan (of Boystown fame.) Ms Ratery claimed that Fr Flanagan openly criticised the industrial schools at the time. Daire Keogh said that Fr Flanagan's only public criticisms were directed at the prison system. The dispute ended with the archivist of Boystown writing to the Irish Times to support Mary Raftery's position and denying Daire Keogh any further access to Fr Flanagan's archives!
In his letter published in the Irish Times on 22 September 2004 Daire Keogh wrote:
...... Ms Raftery concludes her reply with a quotation from Father Flanagan in which he writes that "we have no Christian Brotherhood here at Boys' Town", stating that they left after five years once they realised that they could not "punish the children and kick them around". Immediately after this sentence, Ms Raftery inserts, in the same quotation, remarks made by Father Flanagan concerning the punishment of Nazis and fascists "for their sins against society".
Two points need to be made here. First, Ms Raftery fails to make it clear that it is not the Irish Christian Brothers who stand accused here, but rather an entirely different American order. Second, and more serious to a historian trained in the careful handling of evidence, Ms Raftery conflates two paragraphs far apart in Father Flanagan's text, as well as inverting the textual order of the paragraphs, thereby seamlessly associating "Christian Brotherhood" with Nazis and fascists. Such a practice is reprehensible in a historian, and I presume, in a journalist too.
Ms Raftery is fully entitled to disagree with my thesis. However, it is unacceptable to be accused of a series of errors by someone who has not inspected Father Flanagan's archive, and whose grasp of the rules of evidence appears to be altogether tenuous."
Regarding the denial of his access to the Boystown archives he wrote on 1st November 2004:
"..... This material, promised nine months ago, has never been made available to me. Since the publication of my article on Father Flanagan in History Ireland, in March, my e-mails to the archivist have gone unanswered and specific requests for information refused. More recently, I have written directly to Father Val Peter seeking his assistance; my request was simply forwarded to the archivist. My last correspondence with Father Peter was in response to his letter to The Irish Times. I asked again for the promised material and offered to return to the Boys' Town archive during the Christmas break. To this request I received an emphatic response from the archivist that "no further access will be provided" to me.
The behaviour of the Boys' Town authorities in this matter is indefensible. Historians rely upon the professionalism of archivists; without this trust, research becomes impossible. It is inexcusable for an archivist to withhold material and then to enter into public debate in order to undermine a researcher who has depended upon their good faith.
Father Val Peter may dismiss my argument as "a rationalisation of semantics rather than a factual portrayal of Father Flanagan's feelings" (Oct 4th), but his decision to close the archive is a crude act of censorship, which serves only to undermine his argument."
When other Irish historians finally summon up the nerve to write the truth about Mary Raftery, I suspect that it is this episode - rather than her endorsment of Blood Libel claims - that they will concentrate on!!
Once Again - Mary Raftery and Blood Libel
"They were calling me a Nazi, citing blood libel, a whole stable of them," she continues. "But there's absolute silence from those quarters since the Ryan Report." (Raftery in Sunday Independent on 4 September 2011). Actually I am the only person who ever used the term "blood libel" in relation to Mary Raftery and I also commented - with reference to her - that the Nazi pornographer Julius Streicher also used to accuse Jews of murdering Christian children. I have certainly not remained silent since the Ryan Report. However Mary Rafery is a sacred cow among Irish journalists and feels -with some justification - that they will allow her to get away with any lie!
18 September 2011