Past pupil alleges sexual abuse by priest in Castleknock College

Irish Times [Dublin, Ireland]

November 16, 2022

By Jack Power

Canonical inquiry to take place into priest who later served in a church overseas until at least 2020

As an 11-year-old child from a less well off family, Tom Maher (59), says he had felt “privileged” to attend Castleknock College, a fee-paying boarding school in Dublin, during the 1970s.

Given a chance his parents never had – his father left school aged 12 – even as a young boy he had a sense the prestigious school was a means to “escape” poverty.

Born in Abbeyleix, Co Laois, he recalls the day his parents dropped him off at the west Dublin school run by the Vincentian order, and the priest he met that first day. Nearly 50 years on it is not a face he has forgotten.

Maher alleges the priest, who taught at the school, would later go on to sexually abuse him on two separate occasions.

Speaking to The Irish Times, the former pupil described the atmosphere in the school at the time as one dominated by religion, where bullying of younger students by older boys was rife.

The first occasion he alleges he was sexually abused by the priest was when he was around 12 years old. Maher says at the time he was playing as a scrumhalf for the school rugby team.

The priest would often shower naked with the rest of the boys after training. “This behaviour was completely normalised and none of us said anything to him,” he says.

Maher says one day he had told the priest he had a groin injury. Later, when he was drying himself with a towel in the showers, the priest ordered him into a separate room, where the pair were alone.

Maher says he was naked, but he recalled the priest having a towel around his waist. He alleges the priest then sexually assaulted him under the guise of treating his injury.

“The whole incident probably lasted for about five minutes. Then he said, ‘that’s enough now’, and I went to get changed,” he says. “I had a certain kind of naivety, which a predator might have been able to exploit,” he adds.

The second instance of alleged abuse occurred the following year, after Maher suffered another groin strain while playing rugby.

One night the priest came to his dormitory and told him to follow him to his bedroom, where he would treat the injury.

Maher alleges he was told to sit on the bed and take off his pyjama bottoms, at which point he claims the priest sexually assaulted him under the guise of applying Deep Heat cream to the injury. “He never asked me where the pain was in my groin. I remember him panting,” he says.

Afterwards he tried to put what happened behind him. “I passed my exams, I moved on,” he says.

Another past pupil who attended the school a decade later, in the 1980s, recalled students would warn each other about the priest. The former pupil, who did not wish to be named, said he personally sought to avoid being treated for sporting injuries by the man.

Shortly after finishing university, Maher moved to London, where he currently lives with his wife, managing a company providing tutoring and grinds.

It has only been in recent years he has started to look back and grapple with the past alleged abuse. “It was something I didn’t think about for a long period of time,” he says.

Late last year he reported the alleged abuse to gardaí, as well as the Vincentian order. However, he did not want to progress the criminal complaint as he suspected it would involve a long, protracted process.

When contacted by The Irish Times the priest accused of the alleged abuse stated: “I have no comment”.

The priest accused of abusing him left the school several years after Maher was a pupil and moved abroad. He started serving in a church overseas, not connected to the Vincentian order.

The Vincentians have recently written to the priest’s current diocese informing them of the allegations, correspondence seen by The Irish Times shows.

A spokeswoman for the diocese told The Irish Times the priest had retired from service in recent years. She added no allegations of abuse had been reported about the man related to his time in the diocese overseas.

Fr Paschal Scallon, Irish provincial of the Vincentians, informed Maher this July that a preliminary canonical investigation would be undertaken into the allegations.

The senior Vincentian said he had written to the bishop in the priest’s diocese notifying him of the past alleged abuse. Fr Scallon said a preliminary inquiry would be conducted, after which a full canonical inquiry may take place.

The Vincentians did not respond to requests for comment about the case.

For Maher, he believes there is still an “institutional loyalty” to Castleknock College among former pupils. Of old classmates who have heard of his allegation against the priest, few have contacted him to express their support.

“I don’t want anyone to think I want compensation, I want the truth,” he says.

“I would have welcomed friends from my year being more supportive, it can be a bit lonely. The deference is still there,” he says. “There’s a sense of letting sleeping dogs lie,” Maher says.

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times