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The Many Complex Factors Involved in Suicide
Irish Times, 22 April 2002 by Breda O’Brien

It is not easy to write about a phenomenon as dark, as sensitive and as troubling as suicide. There is always the fear of adding to the hurt of the bereaved, who are already dealing with unbearable grief, often including profound feelings of rejection, writes Breda O'Brien.

Some weeks ago, Peter McCloskey died in tragic circumstances, leaving behind a devastated young family. Peter was in negotiations with the diocese of Limerick concerning an allegation of child abuse by a priest who had moved from the archdiocese of Sydney.

His death occurred two days after talks broke down.

Since then, his story has been increasingly framed as someone driven to take his own life because of the callousness of the church. His mother, Mary McCloskey, said publicly, "I believe the actions of the Limerick diocese are directly responsible for Peter's death."

She also called for the immediate resignation of the Bishop of Limerick, Dr Donal Murray.

When people are fuelled by grief, it is completely understandable that they project their feelings of anger. My difficulty is with the fact that her press conference was hosted by the support group One in Four.

The position taken by One in Four is that it stands over facilitating an opportunity for Ms McCloskey to tell her story, without necessarily endorsing everything she says.

It says that the key issue that should be discussed is the damage caused by the adversarial, confrontational attitude of the diocese's legal team.

However, as a charity in receipt of substantial amounts of public funding, One in Four has a responsibility to be extremely sensitive about how it is perceived to handle the issue of death by suicide.

The World Health Organisation guidelines on coverage of suicide say: "Suicide should not be reported as unexplainable or in a simplistic way. Suicide is never the result of a single factor or event. It is usually caused by a complex interaction of many factors such as mental and physical illness, substance abuse, family disturbances, interpersonal conflicts and life stresses.

"Acknowledging that a variety of factors lead to suicide would be helpful."

One in Four is not a media organisation, but it is a very powerful player in the media. It does no justice to the complexity of factors that lead to people taking their own lives to portray Peter McCloskey only as a heroic victim, battling for truth against an intransigent and secretive church.

In 1999, using a pen name, Peter produced a self-published memoir called The Irish Virus. It paints his relationship with his mother in an appalling light.

Ms McCloskey acknowledges the difficulties in her relationship with Peter. She says she encountered "serious behavioural and discipline difficulties with him" and that despite her best efforts, "my response to Peter was wholly inadequate".

She says her relationship with Peter was healed in 2002 when she realised what he had suffered because of alleged clerical abuse at the age of 10.
Peter dates his difficulties with her to when he was three. He never mentions clerical abuse, which of course proves nothing either way.

While reading, I felt a deep sense of unease. Slowly, I realised what was bothering me. It is a story of his struggle with alcohol addiction, but he tends to blame all his problems on other people.

There is a strong sense of just hearing one side of the story. Yet thereby, am I not committing the cardinal sin against victims of abuse, that is, doubting their account?

In believing, say, that the crude, disparaging and sexist comments he makes about his now separated wife are profoundly unfair, am I denying him the right to be believed? Yet other people featured have the right to have their side of the story heard.

If that applies to this memoir, to what else does it apply? When RTE's Prime Time covered the story, it chose not to report Peter's claims of familial emotional and physical abuse from early childhood, although aware of them.

It also downplayed that the diocese had accepted the credibility of Peter's allegations, indicated by the fact of paying for counselling, including a residential course that would have cost some Eur 20,000.

When I contacted the programme makers, they said they were not investigating Peter's death by suicide, but his claim that he had been denied vital information by the church.

They also stated that the proximity of his death to a meeting with the diocese raised legitimate questions as to whether it was a contributory factor. Miriam O'Callaghan went further, asking Bishop Murray: "Do you believe the church, your diocese, yourself, bear any responsibility for his death?"

This is an incendiary question, reinforcing the overly simplistic idea that a person or organisation can be "responsible" for another person's decision to take his or her life.

All we currently know is that there are pre-disposing factors, such as mental illness, addiction, childhood trauma and abuse. By his own account, Peter suffered them all. But suicide prediction is still a blunt science.

People who are identified as highly suicidal may not in fact take their own lives.

Others not identified as suicidal may actually do so, to the complete shock of loved ones. It is dangerous to imply that an individual or organisation is to blame, because it suggests, however unwittingly, that suicide is a legitimate response to particular life crises.

Are we incubating suicide as a society? We thought raising awareness would work, but instead we have an epidemic of young males dying by suicide.

All we seem to have succeeded in doing is imprinting suicide as a legitimate choice in the problem-solving pathways of young people's minds.

However, we cannot hide behind a nihilistic attitude that nothing works. Finland has managed to reduce its youth suicide rates by 23 per cent, through investment in research and tailored interventions at periods of high risk. In Ireland, we have no tailored intervention service for young people.

As a beginning, we need much more knowledge, gleaned from research such as the groundbreaking study championed by Prof Kevin Malone, which involves some 1,000 bereaved families being interviewed.

We also need to scrupulously avoid anything that even hints to other vulnerable people that the choice of suicide will lead to investigative programmes, press conferences and calls for the heads of people in authority. People bereaved by suicide deserve our sympathy and support.

A grief-fuelled response, however unfair, is understandable. It does nothing to advance the cause of suicide prevention when such responses are reinforced by publicly-funded bodies.

The Irish Times

They Killed My Son – “One in Four” News 18 April 2006
Mother blames Church for Death of Abuse Victim

Devastated mum Mary McCloskey is blaming Church authorities for the death of her clerical abuse victim son.

Peter McCloskey (37) took his own life two days after mediation talks with the Diocese of Limerick broke down.

Peter would be alive if it wasn’t for them: Mum slams church over abused son who took his own life

The devastated mum of a clerical abuse victim who ended his own life three weeks ago has called on the Bishop of Limerick to resign.

Mary McCloskey claimed last night that her son Peter would still be alive if another cleric had been dealing with his case.

“I believe the actions of the Limerick Diocese are directly responsible for Peter’s death,” she said.

“I ask that Bishop Donal Murray now examine his conscience. He failed to show proper Christian love or even basic humanity to my son.
“I believe if he examines his conscience with real honesty he will realise that he must step down from his position.”

However the estranged wife of 37-year-old Peter, Cathy McCloskey, told The Star last night that she had not been told that Mary McCloskey and Peter’s brother Joseph would be speaking to the press.

She said: “I’m just devastated that the children aren’t allowed to grieve their dad.

“Why all this had to come out now I don’t know.”

She and Peter had three daughters aged 13, 11 and 10.

Yesterday, Bishop Murray released a statement saying Peter’s death was “deeply upsetting for all who knew him” and that he invited abuse victims to contact the diocese.

But Mary McCloskey last night urged people not to go to Bishop Murray for help – because her son went to him and now he is dead.

Peter had battled for years to expose the truth about the evil priest who abused him.

But sick Denis Daly from Killaloe, Co Clare died in 1987 – eight years after subjecting the then 10-year-old Peter to horrific abuse while he was an altar boy at Caherdavin Parish in Co Limerick.

The abusing priest, who was often moved between parishes, was never brought to justice and now tragic Peter will never see the truth emerge as he took his own life on April 1.

Fed up being stonewalled by the bishop and devastated by the breakdown of mediation into his case, Peter ended it all after years fighting for justice.

Colm O’Gorman of victim support group One in Four said yesterday: “What drove Peter more than anything else was to have the truth acknowledged.
“He believed that he’d been repeatedly disbelieved and called a liar in relation to his experiences with abuse. He found that very damaging.”

Peter had suffered in silence until he finally told his family about the abuse in 2002.

And his brother Joseph believes a breakdown in the mediation process earlier this month was the final straw for his sibling – who took his own life two days later.

“I think something very delicate, something very fine had been crushed in his mind that day,” Joseph said last night.

According to O’Gorman, the Diocese of Limerick sought an extra level of confidentiality in Peter’s case “that went above and beyond the normal level.”
Bishop Murray told Prime Time last Sunday that he did not withhold information about Fr Daly from Peter McCloskey.

But Peter’s family and One in Four both claim that this statement was untrue.

And last night Mary McCloskey was determined to find justice for her son. “As a mother, I am responsible for failing to protect my son from the most evil crime that can be perpetrated upon a child.

“I believed my little boy was safe from all harm while in the Church. The Church, which my family believed in so strongly, has betrayed by trust and violated my innocent child.”

Aine Bonner, The Star


Press Release by “One in Four” Group 17 April 2006
Statement of Mary McCloskey on the Death of Her Son Peter McCloskey

It is with deep sadness and immense grief that I am here to speak the truth for Peter, following his final battle with Dr. Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick and the Diocesan legal representatives. The only way in which Peter can finally achieve justice in death is for those living with his death to bear witness to the truth. It was the unbearable weight of the denial of the truth that became too much for Peter; that denial must end.

I believe the actions of the Limerick Diocese are directly responsible for Peter’s death. Where Christian charity, humanity and the love of Christ were called for, Peter encountered a litigious response, denial of liability, bare faced lies and was threatened with being sued for libel and legal costs. My son Peter paid those costs with his life.

I am Mary McCloskey, Peter’s mother.

Peter needs a voice and I will be that voice. Peter died for the truth. Honesty was very important to him and the grave will not and must not, silence that truth. Peter wasscrupulously honest in his fight for truth and justice with the church. My son’s good name and reputation must be vindicated. Peter paid too high a price for the truth he held so dearly.

Peter was my blond curly haired baby with big brown eyes. I loved Peter, cared for and nurtured him, wanting the very best for him in life. He was outgoing, vivacious and had a great sense of humour. 

Peter suffered Clerical Sexual Abuse at ten years of age. I was unaware of the abuse at the time it occurred in the 1980s and for many years afterwards, that abuse affected Peter in a most serious way and caused him untold emotional and psychological suffering. This suffering continued through his teenage years, into his adulthood and up to the day he died.

As a mother, I acknowledge that I encountered serious behavioural and discipline difficulties with Peter over those years. I now realise that my response to Peter was wholly inadequate, despite my sincere and best efforts at the time. However, I had no idea of what I was dealing with, in terms of the abuse suffered by Peter at the hands of Fr. Denis Daly. I am devastated that my response in those years added to Peter’s pain, isolation and suffering.

Peter confided in me about the Clerical Sexual Abuse in the autumn of 2002. Initially, I found it difficult to comprehend and to take the reality of the abuse on board. As a family, we have been steadfastly faithful to the Roman Catholic Church, believing in its Priests and not accepting that Priests would behave in such a heinous way. Our faith was important to us in many ways, it was to that faith we looked to understand and get through difficult times for our family. It is tragic that in our struggles to understand Peter’s torment we looked to our faith, we did not appreciate that the church was the source of his pain, our faithfulness must have isolated Peter even more.

From the time Peter told me about his childhood experiences of Clerical Sexual Abuse, I told him that I believed him and that I would support him.
Knowing about the abuse he suffered explained for me the problems and upheaval in Peter’s life. Before this, I had never understood the root cause of his distress.

As a mother, I am responsible for failing to protect my son from the most evil crime that can be perpetrated upon a child. I was proud of Peter being an Altar-Boy and he was faithful and loyal to the church in serving mass every morning before school and on Sunday. I believed my little boy to be in a good place and safe from all harm, while in the Church. The Church, in which my family believed so strongly, has betrayed my trust and violated my innocent child.

The Church knew of Fr. Denis Daly’s paedophilic behaviour over a thirty year period, before he came to Caherdavin Parish. Despite this, Fr. Denis Daly was dispatched from Australia to America, from there to England, and then on to Ireland. My little boy Peter had the tragic misfortune to be an Altar-Boy, placing him in harms way.

It is a source of very deep distress to me that for all of those years I failed to recognise the signs and symptoms of what was going on in Peter’s life. I now have my own demons to live with. I hope Peter will look lovingly on me from his place of peace.

In more recent times, my interactions with Peter demonstrated to me how very deep the scars left by Clerical Sexual Abuse ran within him.

Over the last few years, Peter and I reached a fresh understanding in our relationship. I enjoyed the time we spent together. When we had dinner together in the evenings, we had great fun and banter over the table. He acknowledged my support and once he accepted that I was sincere, he never again rehearsed the hurts of the years to me; having being believed he no longer needed to battle to be heard by me.

A further harm caused by Peters having been so violated as a child has been the untold hurt, deep wounds and misunderstandings amongst us as a family. Peter often felt isolated and abandoned by us. Sadly and with deep regret it took Peter’s death for some of us, to believe the Church had been so wrong.

As Peter’s mother, I have been ignored and snubbed by individual Priests. I believe that this happened because of the allegations made by Peter.
Having watched Prime Time last Thursday, I now fully understand the “Stone Wall” Peter fought in Dr. Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick and his Diocesan legal team.

The Diocesan Delegation at the Mediation Meeting on 30th March included a senior Priest of the Diocese and a Religious Sister. In their role as Religious Persons at that meeting, I believe they did not extend to Peter the love of Jesus Christ approaching the feast of Easter. My son Peter has been denied compassion, humanity and basic dignity by the Diocese of Limerick.  

Dr. Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick and his legal representatives had Peter nailed to the Cross well in advance of Good Friday. I vehemently reject the comment by Bishop Donal Murray and Fr. Paul Finnerty on Prime Time, that they walked the journey with my son Peter, in their Pastoral Care. Peter walked his journey without any sincere support from the Diocese.

It was obvious to me and all the supporters who have contacted me since the Prime Time programme that Fr. Paul Finnerty falsely represented the facts. He was never a support to Peter as Diocesan Secretary. He never even met Peter.

I ask that Bishop Donal Murray now examine his conscience. In a vain attempt to protect his own image he has misrepresented the facts and misled the people he was ordained to serve. He failed to show proper Christian love or even basic humanity to my son.  I believe if he examines his conscience with real honesty he will realise that he must now step down from his position. He must allow a man who can bring integrity to the office of the Bishop of Limerick to take his place.

Nothing can now wipe away the pain that Peter suffered throughout his life, but justice through the truth that he valued more than life itself, can be testament to his memory. My little boy deserved better and I will continue to try to reconcile with my own failure to protect him and to respond to his hurt as a child. In closing I want to make it clear that I believe Peter’s death was entirely preventable. Had he been met by those purporting to speak for my faith with respect, love and compassion I believe he would be with us still.

For further information please contact One in Four 01-6624070