Terrified girls never revealed abuse

By Patsy McGarry
Irish Times
June 10, 2003

Two sisters abused by the late Dublin priest, Father Noel Reynolds, talk about their ordeal to Patsy McGarry , Religious Affairs Correspondent.

"Martha" and "Mary" are 39 and 34 now. They are in recovery since about 1995. Their histories of drug abuse, homelessness, serial relationships and dysfunctional behaviour were so untypical of their family or any relatives, it perplexed people. At one stage, Martha even ended up begging on the Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin.

No one could understand it. Their father neither drank nor smoked and always had a job. They even had a car when few other families in their working class estate on Dublin's north side had one.

And the rest of their family did so well. It didn't make any sense at all that the two youngest children should go to the bad and to such a degree.

Or why, at the age of 16, Martha (the older of the two) attempted suicide and had to be admitted to Portrane psychiatric hospital. Wasn't their mother a devout Catholic and didn't their father take up the collection at Mass on Sundays? But therein lay destruction for Martha and Mary.

No one realised that then. Not even Martha of Mary or Mary of Martha. (Martha and Mary are not their real names).

Father Noel Reynolds was a hugely charismatic figure those days in the then greenfield parish of Kilmore West in early 1970s Dublin. He was dynamic, energetic, charming, outgoing - just the right sort of man to build up a new parish.

He had responsibility for the children's Mass and children's activities generally. He was so popular with the children some parents referred to him as "the pied piper".

He got to know Martha and Mary's family through their father's collection work on Sundays at the school hall, then used for Mass until the new church was built. The priest would visit their home and was made feel so welcome he used take off his shoes and put his feet up.

Even when their father came in from work he would defer his place of comfort to the priest.

The family gave him a key to their house, which they would vacate some Sundays so he could have a bit of peace away from the demands of parish life which was fairly continuous at the digs he had in another house nearby. They felt privileged to have such a friendship with the popular young priest.

Martha recalled the first time he did anything serious to her. It was at her First Confession. She was about 6½. It was in the school where they had a makeshift arrangement with a kneeler for the children, but he made her sit on his lap. It went from there. It continued at home.

He would visit the house most nights and when the girls were put to bed he would eventually tell their parents that he was going up to say a few goodnight prayers with the girls. He always said the prayers.

Neither sister suspected the other was being abused. Their room was kept divided by the door of a hot press "to stop them talking, to make them go to sleep," their mother said. And he would warn them to tell no one what he did or their mother would be sick. Something would happen her.

Any time she was sick in those years they would wonder if it was their fault. Even today they worry something might happen to her. It's an unconscious reaction.

For five years he abused Martha alone, then began to abuse Mary when she was about seven and for approximately two years he abused both. Always after prayers.

The abuse took all forms and continued in Martha's case until she was 12 and in Mary's until she was 13. He frequently used force and almost from the beginning in each case. Sometimes it could happen up to five nights a week.

At one time in those early 1970s, Father Reynolds went sick. No one was sure what was wrong with him. There were rumours he was to be moved and that he did not want to go.

Martha and Mary's mother cooked three meals a day for him at that time. He remained in bed - until Bishop James Kavanagh came to visit and told the priest he could stay. He recovered immediately.

At the time another priest in the parish remarked to their mother that Father Reynolds "had a very big problem". Their mother understood the priest to mean Father Reynolds was gay.

And Mary recalled how she would lie awake under the blankets holding her breath when she heard him coming up the stairs.

If he didn't hear her breathing he would assume she was asleep. He would leave her alone then. Sometimes she couldn't hold her breath long enough.

The sisters found out about each other only while undergoing therapy in the late 1990s. Neither knew the other had been abused until then, such was the fear of talking about it - that something might happen their mother. They have never discussed the details with each other. They cannot.

Only the gardaí and therapists know those in full. Martha gave an account to a priest in Archbishop's House, but held off on some of the cruder details because "I was ashamed of me life . . . he [her listener\] was a priest! I knew by him he hadn't a clue," she said.

When Martha heard in April of last year that Father Reynolds had died, she just had to be sure. The funeral was private and took place at the oratory in Roebuck House nursing home, on Dublin's south side, where he had died.

She was accompanied by a professional who was helping with her recovery programme and believed this was necessary for her. They "blagged" their way in.

When she saw Father Reynolds in the coffin she was convinced all right, even noticing the missing joint on one of his fingers with which he used to perform magic tricks when they were young children. But she was astonished at the attendance. "Over 50 priests and a bishop. We counted them," she said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.