Following a TG4 documentary, Dr Alan McGuckian, Catholic bishop of Raphoe, is offering “every possible co-operation” to investigations into child abuse in his diocese; the documentary named both priests and a national teacher. When will the Church of Ireland show a similar transparency regarding its own past concealment of wrongdoing? That the Church of Ireland did not have problems of institutional abuse owed much more to fact that very few institutions existed in the Church of Ireland than to the church being any more virtuous than the Roman Catholic church.
In the parish of Offerlane in Co Laois, there was a small Church of Ireland primary school which in the 1940s had a falling number of its pupils on its roll. A scheme was devised whereby “orphans” from Miss Carr’s Homes, a Dublin institution, would be removed from the children’s home in which they had lived and would be fostered out to families in the area of the school so as to boost its numbers.
Little or no effort seems to have been made to vet the families and there seems to have been little thought given to John Graham, a boy with learning difficulties, and what the future might hold for him in such an environment. The home initially identified for the boy seems to have been unavailable and the boy was instead sent to live with Leonard Cleere, the schoolmaster, a man who lived in a two bedroomed schoolhouse with his mother.
There seems to have been no official questions raised about the vulnerable boy going to live with a man who was publicly known for violence against his pupils and who is still remembered for his casual use of a stick against even the smallest of children. No-one in authority seems to have spoken against the master, who was widely suspected of sexual as well as physical abuse against the boy.
John Graham grew up knowing nothing other than abuse and in adulthood became an abuser himself. As a vulnerable adult, he was convicted of abuse in 1994, his conviction being reported in the Irish Independent, and he was sent to prison, only to be transferred to psychiatric care after a few years of the sentence.
Figures of authority, who might have made better the life of not only the vulnerable boy, but all those who suffered, simply said nothing. More than sixty years later, there are still people who feel a grave sense of injustice at what happened.
Try to tell the story to people now and no-one wants to hear. It’s not as though anyone is looking for compensation, an acknowledgement that a wrong was done would be sufficient, an acknowledgement that an evil and sadistic man should not have been treated with respect and should never have been allowed access to children.
Will the Church of Ireland ever apologize?