A Cruel Twisting of a Child's Bravery
August 1, 2014
I’ve just read Sworn to Silence, a new book by Brendan Boland which tells of his abuse at the hands of Father Brendan Smyth.
Boland was an eleven-year-old altar boy at the time.
He is 53 years old and only now feels able to tell his story. It makes harrowing reading, not only because it deals with the abuse itself, but also covers the canonical inquiry when the young Brendan was questioned by three priests, including Fr John Brady – now Cardinal Sean Brady.
Brendan Boland tells his story with Darragh MacIntyre, an awarding-winning investigative reporter. For the first time the transcript of the interview with the three priests is published word for word. With hindsight, the way Brendan was questioned makes truly awful reading.
Here we have an outstanding example of everything that is wrong with the Church’s handling of abuse victims.
In March 1975, Brendan Boland was brave enough to report Smyth’s abuse. This led to a canonical inquiry. Brendan’s father was not allowed to be present at the interview.
In his book, Brendan tells that even though he was only 14 years old at the time, it was obvious the inquiry tried to put the blame on him.
His hope was that it would prevent Brendan Smyth from abusing other children. It failed miserably to do that.
Brendan Smyth continued to abuse boys and girls in the most appaling way. He was held accountable for only a small number of cases.
In 1994 he was convicted of 17 counts of child sexual abuse and three years later pleaded guilty to another 74 cases. Countless others have never been reported; I have met mothers who attribute the suicides of their children to abuse earlier in life by Brendan Smyth.
Here are some of the questions 14-year-old Brendan was asked in the inquiry: “Would you have done these things in the first place with another boy or grown-up man?” When he answered, “no”, it was followed up with, “If not, why not?”
Then he was asked, “Why did you do it with Fr Smyth?” The innocence of Brendan Boland is clear from his answer; “Because he was a priest, probably, and I did not like to refuse him.”
Boland was then asked; “Had you any worry that it was wrong?” To which he answered, “I thought it was alright when it was with a priest.”
The investigators then pressed him on Confession and they asked; “You did not go to confession for some time after that. Why?”
Boland shows that he was the most mature person in the room with his answer. “It would have been embarrassing and if I had not told it, I would have thought that I made a bad confession. I kind of wasn’t sure if it was wrong.”
This is an appaling way to question a 14 year old who was trying to help them to stop Smyth destroying other lives.
Brendan Boland says he was convinced the quizzing about confession was designed to make him feel guilty. He writes, “Then I was just terrified and scared. Today I am angry and furious.”
Incredibly there were questions too about masturbation,
which Boland now interprets in a different way. “Again I felt they put the blame back on |me; the blame and the shame... if I enjoyed that, well I must have enjoyed being assaulted by Fr Smyth.”
There is a real ring of truth and sincerity to Brendan Boland’s descriptions.
At the end of the questioning the young victim had to sign an oath of secrecy which meant he could not tell anyone, not even his father, about what they had discussed.
The many revealing pieces of correspondence make the book a must read for anyone interested in how the Church failed.
One of the saddest parts of the book for me was that the abuse continued to destroy the life of Brendan Boland; even though he later went to England, was happily married and raised two sons.
On page 124 he tells the story of his son Stephen’s First Communion ordeal. Stephen was in the local Catholic School and he naturally expected to make his Communion there.
Brendan says that he and his wife went to Mass regularly. But because he was engaged in shift work, he went to a neighbouring parish for Mass.
Out of the blue he got a message from the local priest telling him that Stephen wasn’t allowed to make his Communion with the school because, the priest had decided, there was no evidence that the wee lad was attending Mass in his parish. So Stephen couldn’t make his Communion. At this point Brendan Boland admits he lost it.
He then wrote to the local Bishop. “That sorted it. Stephen was allowed to make his Communion. I was so furious because of all I had been through. I definitely took it personally because by now I had well-tuned antennae to figure priests out. Some go about with an arrogance of the Church shining through them.”
Equally sad was what happened to Brendan when, in 1994, the first documentary about Brendan Smyth, Suffer Little Children by Chris Moore, was broadcast. “It was like being hit with a bus. Jesus, me thinking he was supposed to have been dealt with in 1975 and here he was now in prison for abusing children, some of whom were only just born back then… I was living proof of the damage... He had left me with a permanent scar, though he had never hit me. I was secure in my sexuality, but sex itself was often tainted by the memory of that first sexual experience.”
Such insights make this book one of the very best there is on the subject of abuse and its consequences.
Sworn to Silence by Brendan Boland with Darragh MacIntyre; published by O’Brien Press, www.obrien.ie