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Ex-Brothers Concerned At 'False' Claims

Irish Times, 11 October 2003 by Patsy McGarry

Two former Christian Brothers are upset that abuse allegations, already investigated by the Garda, are being brought up again by the State's redress board. Patsy McGarry  reports.

A former Christian Brother, "Peter", against whom no charges were brought following a Garda investigation of physical and sexual abuse allegations against him, has been asked by the Residential Institutions Redress Board to comment on the allegations.

The board has also asked him to comment on one new allegation with which he was not confronted before. It dates from a year when Peter was aged two. He has never heard of the man making the allegation.

The redress board is charged by the State with paying compensation to victims of abuse in residential institutions.

A letter Peter received from the board this week and another sent to him by the board last April - which has been seen by The Irish Times - included details of the alleged incidents.

Seven other Brothers were also named in the letters as alleged abusers of the same complainant. A copy of the complainant's statement, detailing the allegations against all eight Brothers, was attached to letters sent by the board to each of the eight Brothers.

In 1998 Peter was suspended from teaching when allegations of abuse in a residential institution were first made against him.

He was reinstated in 2001 when, following the Garda investigation, no charges were brought.

In 1998 Peter was questioned by gardaí in connection with an allegation. He was arrested in 1999. By then 15 former residents of the institution had made allegations against him.

He was questioned for 12 hours during which he protested his total innocence.

He was not physically present at the times the incidents alleged by 13 of the former residents occurred.

On foot of the same allegations investigated by the Garda, he has now been contacted by both the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the redress board.

The commission has two strands: a confidential committee before which abuse victims may tell their story; and an investigations committee which checks out allegations made by former residents of the institutions.

Another former Christian Brother, "Patrick", has also been contacted recently by both statutory bodies in connection with allegations against him.

These have been investigated by the Garda, and no charges have been brought.

The redress board, which compensates victims of abuse in residential institutions, in its "guide to hearing procedures" states that "in the interests of fairness and justice" it may permit someone named in an application as an "abuser, and/or someone representing the management of the institution in which the applicant may have been abused, to attend."

Patrick had been at the same residential institution as Peter, and many of the same people made similar allegations against both.

Although Peter and Patrick served in other residential institutions also, no allegations have been made against either from any of those other institutions.

Patrick, who left the Brothers over two decades ago and has since married and had a family, was faced with allegations from 22 former residents of the institution. The first were made in 1999.

His arrest then, at his home by three gardaí in front of his wife and neighbours, was reported on the six o'clock television news that evening.

He was held for 12 hours and interrogated aggressively, as he recalls it, in connection with allegations made by five former residents.

He was arrested shortly afterwards in connection with allegations by 10 further former residents, but says he was treated better on this occasion. Seven more former residents made allegations later.

He has not been charged in connection with any of the allegations. He was told by the Garda that all but two were being dropped. The DPP had asked for further details on those two cases.

This was supplied by the Garda to the DPP's office two years ago. Nothing has happened since then. Until Patrick is cleared definitively of the remaining two allegations he must remain on "leave with pay" from his school, as he has been since 1999.

Both men have said they have contemplated suicide. One said: "It would have been better to be charged with murder than such a heinous crime."

Recently, at a function, he met 11 Christian Brothers who had been interrogated by gardaí following allegations. Charges were brought against none.

The men said they are considering setting up a support group for the falsely accused. They said they may call it Survivors Of False Allegations (SOFA).


Implication of guilt via language

Irish Times, 13 October 2003 by John Waters

The word "survivors" appeared twice in the opening section of the resignation letter of Ms Justice Laffoy, in which she outlined the facts leading up to the establishment of her tribunal.

The two uses occurred in the same sentence, referring to "the issue of compensation for survivors of abuse, first raised in July 2000 by a group of solicitors acting for a substantial number of survivors". Elsewhere, she referred to "complainants" and "victims of abuse".

In dealing with those accused, she referred to "respondents" or "individuals against whom allegations have been made".

The language of this matter is tricky. The word "survivors" is associated chiefly with Jews who escaped the holocaust suffered by six million of their brethren at the hands of the Nazis. In this context, it refers, literally, to those who survived something incontrovertibly established to have occurred. Only a handful of far-right extremists maintain that the holocaust did not happen - the rest of mankind is united in believing it was probably the most horrific episode in world history.

Used in connection with alleged abuse in residential institutions a generation ago, the word "survivor" has acquired a usage and connotation that we should find disturbing. Nothing has yet been established in a court of law to confirm the widespread accusations of abuse made about these institutions and those who ran them.

The word "survivor" arrives here via feminist discourse concerning rape and sexual assault, as an alternative to "victim", which feminists insisted should be used only to describe someone who had died in the course of an attack. The problem with the word in relation to any such offence is that its use assumes the episode at issue actually occurred, more or less as alleged.

It is, therefore, questionable as a way of describing someone who alleges they have suffered something as yet unproven.

In this we have an illustration of the complexities of dealing with events that, by virtue of saturation reporting of one side of the story, have been accepted at face value. It has been hazardous for anyone seeking to call into question any of the allegations made concerning residential institutions. Assumptions of truthfulness on the part of complainants are balanced only by assumptions of guilt in relation to the accused. For several years, there has been no place in the public debate for the voices of those who plead not guilty, or who wish to give different accounts of life in the institutions in question.

This self-sealing process is rendered more inscrutable by the language in which these matters are spoken of. Although most of the allegations relate to alleged ill-treatment and physical abuse, the general sense of the church's disgrace in relation to past episodes of sexual abuse has led the public conversation into a self-fulfilling acceptance in respect of the raft of accusations which confront the abuse tribunal and redress board.

Societal attitudes to sexual abuse are wholly different to most other crimes. It is not merely their horrendous nature or the breach of innocence they involve, there is also an issue of ideology, of which language is critical. In addition to "survivor", there are several other words in common use in this connection, which, in seeming to presuppose that the facts are already established, render investigation superfluous and, in effect, invert the presumption of innocence on which our system of justice depends.

One such word is "disclosure", used to describe what, in relation to other types of offences, would be described as "allegations". Another staple of the ideology of abuse investigation is the concept of "denial", which, in its post-Freudian application, equates denial with guilt, and emphatic denial with unambiguous guilt.

When survivors make disclosures and the guilty issue denials, due process can often seem like a cumbersome and costly inconvenience. And so, although the purpose of establishing a tribunal was, presumably, to establish the facts, the public discussion, concerning compensation and other matters, continues as if the facts are beyond question. Attempts to outline reservations about the process or its language are subject to massively hysterical responses.

Last Saturday, Patsy McGarry wrote in this newspaper a disturbing account of the experiences of two former Christian Brothers who say they have been wrongly accused. One stands accused of abuse that would have to have occurred when he was two years old. And yet the article was shrouded in scepticism by its headline - "Ex-Brothers concerned at 'false' claims" - the quotation marks around "false" imply a raised eyebrow of doubt about the Brothers' claims of innocence.

Isn't there something we need to examine when even our sub-editing stylisms conspire implicitly to withhold from the accused the benefit of doubts automatically extended in our language to their accusers?