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March 07, 2011


Rory Connor

The following is the relevant extract from Richard Webster's essay insofar as it relates to Christine Buckley and Sister Xavieria:

"The Irish story then developed in a manner which paralleled the development of the North Wales story. In 1996 the producer and director, Louis Lentin, made a television documentary about abuse in children’s homes which was shown by RTE, the main public service broadcasting station in Ireland. It focused on the brutal regime which was said to have been operating during the 1950s at St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, one of a network children’s homes or detention centres which were funded by the state and run by the Catholic Church.

“The documentary featured allegations made against Sister Xavieria, one of the nuns belonging to the Sisters of Mercy order which ran the home. The woman ‘survivor’ at the centre of the film claimed that, on one occasion, she had been caned by Sister Xavieria so severely that the entire side of her leg was split open from her hip to her knee. She says she was treated in the casualty department of the local hospital and believes that she received 80 to 120 stitches.

“No medical evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this bizarre claim. The surgeon who ran the casualty department at the hospital in question has given evidence which renders it highly unlikely that such an incident ever took place. Apart from anything else, the surgeon points out that caning would not have caused a wound of this kind, which would have required surgical treatment under a general anaesthetic and not stitches in a casualty department. Yet although the evidence suggests that the woman’s memory was a delusion, her testimony was widely believed at the time. In the wake of the broadcast, atrocity stories about Goldenbridge and other industrial schools began to proliferate. [3]”

3. Sunday Times (Ireland), 28 April 1996, citing the views of the surgeon, J. B. Prendiville.

Webster’s essay “States of Fear, the Redress Board and Ireland’s Folly” is an extract from ‘Fragments of a witch hunt’ which is Chapter 73 of his book "The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt" (2005).The book is about a child abuse. witch-hunt in North Wales but Webster includes sections on other countries including Ireland


Richard Dawkins:

"The Roman Catholic Church has borne a heavy share of such retrospective opprobrium. For all sorts of reasons I dislike the Roman Catholic Church. But I dislike unfairness even more, and I can’t help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonized over the issue, especially in Ireland and America… We should be aware of the remarkable power of the mind to concoct false memories, especially when abetted by unscrupulous therapists and mercenary lawyers. The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown great courage, in the face of spiteful vested interests, in demonstrating how easy it is for people to concoct memories that are entirely false but which seem, to the victim, every bit as real as true memories. This is so counter-intuitive that juries are easily swayed by sincere but false testimony from witnesses.

(The God Delusion, pp. 315-16)


Shanley was a predatory creep. Even people like Elaine Noble (first lesbian elected to the Massachusetts legislature) and Dignity Boston folks tried to alert the Boston Chancery to his predatory activity.

Clerics, like other trusted "helping" authority figures, have a special duty restrain themselves from even the appearance of impropriety.

You should stay hundreds of miles away from rationalizing and eliding ephebophile priests who fail to respect boundaries. It's creepy and worse.

Spirit of Vatican II

Percy, I agree -- but I note that you also see Shanley as an ephebophile; the point is that he was imprisoned as a child rapist, not as an ephebophile. It seems to be a practice of US courts to punish people not for the crime they are charged with but for their impression of the general record of the accused; thus Fr Geoghan was sent to jail for 10 years for grapping a ten year old's buttocks in a swimming pool (he was subsequently murdered by a brutal jailmate).


No, I don't deny he was a child rapist (his conviction was upheld at the appellate level even after the issue of repressed memory was fully litigaged years after his conviction). You, however, do. I focused on your rationalization of ephebophilia, that's all.

And Fr Geoghan's assault of a 10 year old merited criminal punishment (not his murder); moreover, there were *86* civil cases that had to be settled besides (the criminal case was just the simplest route to get him in jail without overtaxing prosecutorial resources - I live in Massachusetts).

Priests (and not just priests, but teachers, counselors, and others in helping professions that can easily abuse the trust of troubled young people - and that's not an exclusive list, just illustrative) should never rationalize ephebophilia as merely indiscreet behavior, et cet. It smacks of the clerical club culture. Gay or straight, it's same old clericalism. It's not progressive in the least. Not one jot.

Brian Gallagher

That practice may have originated with the prosecution of Al Capone for tax evasion.

When presented with evidence that large numbers of people are in prison unjustly, many people, including police and prosecutors shrug their shoulders and give the reply, "yeah, they might not have committed that particular crime but they're undoubtedly guilty of something."

That is certainly the attitude that Shanley's defense team will run up against.

I remember, 9 years ago, when Fr. Geoghan was convicted (being here in Boston): there was a great deal of catharsis among the victims of abuse and their families. I remember thinking, "But isn't 10 years excessive for grabbing a kid's rear end?" I would like to see heavy penalties for heavy crimes regardless of the man being tried or his terrible history.

Are you sure you have the right timing, Joe? I mean, is this really time to be splitting hairs and/or educating people about ephebophilia vs. pedophilia? As the comment you cite about missal points out, there's a connection between the botched liturgy and the inability of the clergy to police itself. I, too, desire that people become more understanding of sexuality and sexual development but is the frankly emergency situation we have presently (esp. in Philadelphia) really the forum for that effort? I'm open to suggestions here, I honestly don't know what's going to happen or what, besides the bishops taking their own rules seriously, should happen.

An increasingly hard-line position against reform only makes the clergy more vulnerable to Soviet-style collapse, in my opinion. Then we might get somewhere with sexual awareness.


If that "understanding" is a la André Guindon, then let's call it off....

Brian Gallagher

I don't know who Andre Guindon is, but I'll add that I am interested in explanations, not excuses.


Oh, try this:

"...most recent studies tend to disprove that lasting harm results from the pedophiliac contact itself. Rather the trauma comes from the familial panic which is the usual response to the incident. Nobody seems to care that children are exposed to violence, greed, social injustice, and family wars. But let a man kiss a young boy or touch his genitals — usually a meaningless gesture for the child, by the way — and the incident is blown up into a national tragedy. Many parents and citizens who pose as do-gooders should consider carefully whether they are not making a scapegoat out of the defenseless pedophile for their own sins."

from "The Sexual Language: An Essay in Moral Theology"(1976)

It's emblematic of a discredited era of thought about the resiliency of adolescent psychology in these situations. That is, such resiliency was assumed by folks like Rev Guindon to be more widespread than evidence now indicates. There is sound neurological reason to avoid presuming upon the resiliency of adolescents to withstand or recover readily from thse situations; while some may, it would be manifestly evil to assume anyone will in fact.

Brian Gallagher

Thank you, Percy.

Allow me to feed Joseph O'Leary's hunger for evidence of a good ol' American witch hunt:


The [US] Supreme Court has ruled that child pornography is not subject to the same First Amendment protections as adult pornography, since it is assumed that the child is being abused.

But with the rise of technology, said Carissa B. Hessick, an associate professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State and an expert on child pornography and criminal sentencing, “now we have situations where people are being arrested and charged” in connection with digitally altered images, where no child was abused.

Rory Connor

Regarding Comment No 1 - for the (partial) text of the Sunday Times article referred to by Richard Webster see:
regarding the alleged savage beating of a young girl by Sister Xavieria

In an article in the Irish Times on 1st March 1996, Fintan O’Toole wrote:
“Strangely enough, of all the images in Louis Lentin’s superb documentary film on Goldenbridge orphanage, the most disturbing for me was not one of the violent ones – a child deliberately scalded with boiling water or beaten with a club until her whole leg from ankle to hip burst open. We see so much brutality on the screen that most of us, I suppose, have learned how to shield ourselves from it. ...”

The Sunday Times did not engage in any difficult feat of investigative reporting. They simply interviewed a surgeon who worked in the hospital where children from the Goldenbridge orphanage were treated during the 1950s. The only reason why O’Toole did not check out this information, is that he did not want to know. The same goes for Archbishop Diarmuid Martin today!

[ The remainder of the Sunday Times article dated 28 April 1996, deals with an allegation (made AFTER the broadcast of 'Dear Daughter') that the Sisters of Mercy were responsible for the death of a baby left in their care who had allegedly died of burn injuries. Doctor Prendiville is quoting as saying:

'They didn't treat burns in St Ultan's. If the baby died from a burn, there would have to be an inquest.'

The postmortem said the child died of dysentery - which was the kind of illness that St Ultan's children's hospital had been set up to treat.

http://www.irishsalem.com/religious-congregations/sisters-of-mercy/sisterspayout-childkillingclaim-oct97.php ]


There were 130 accusations against Fr. Geoghan who claimed himself to have been molested by Cardinal Cushing. History has a way of bringing these details to light. It doesn't surprise me that there is someone out there defending these men, it's just that it's unclear what they were doing in the priesthood in the first place, unless it was to cause mischief and moral panic.

Spirit of Vatican II

But surely it is a corruption of US justice if among the 130 accusations you claim were made, not one could be found to form a credible basis for the 10 years sentence he received. Or is this a new, impressionistic method of dispensing justice? I suggest that such a method is precisely not what is required in a time of moral panic.

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