Thursday, January 31, 2008

Victory for sex-abuse killer who exposed Catholic school's dark past

Paul Gordon has waited 30 long years for justice.

This week the former “pasty-faced and weak” schoolboy, who was sexually abused by a religious order who paid off his father, finally saw his tormentors sent to jail.

The sex abuse case is the latest to hit the Catholic Church in Ireland, whose moral authority has been destroyed.

A government-funded compensation process has been established, involving up to 15,000 claimants at a cost of more than a billion euros.

From the mid-1960s, St John's National School in Sligo, northwest Ireland, was a dangerous place for children. Police believe that at least 50 boys, and probably many more, were abused by religious and lay teachers.

The chairman of St John's board of management said that he thoroughly regretted the school's dark past. “What has occurred was terrible and the school acknowledges these terrible happenings,” Father Hever said. “We are making every effort since then, in terms of child protection, to ensure that such incidents would never happen again.”

Victim support groups demanded government action

“The question has to be asked, who was managing this school during this reign of abuse?” asked Deirdre Fitzpatrick, advocacy director of One in Four, a charity and support group for victims of sex abuse.

“As the law stands the boards of management have ultimate responsibility for child welfare, and if something goes wrong they are accountable. This loophole was highlighted two years ago and we have been calling on the Department of Education to step in and take responsibility since then.”

Martin Meaney, a former member of the Marist order, who was known as Brother Gregory during his time at St John's, was jailed this week for two years on five sample abuse charges. Meaney, who has already served nine years of an 18-year sentence for indecent assault and rape at another school, denied that there was a paedophile ring at St John's. When asked by police whether he was acting alone, he said: “I thought I was the only one.”

He admitted preying upon Mr Gordon. “He was a pasty-faced, weak little lad, pale and sickly and I felt sorry for him. I did feel for boys who were deprived. I did pick the weakest lad in Paul Gordon,” he said.

Mr Gordon told the trial that Meaney was one of three Marist brothers who abused him. His alcoholic and violent father would receive cash in envelopes in return for the abuse.

A fifth Marist brother and former teacher at St John's is facing a retrial this year after his conviction was quashed on appeal.

The abuse drove Mr Gordon to kill his father in 1983 and he was jailed for eight years for manslaughter. His claims of sex abuse at St John's were ignored. “I was basically told by a garda [police officer] that I had brought enough disgrace on my family and that my complaints would go nowhere,” he said. But he persisted and in 1999 a police investigation team was established and eventually uncovered the scale of sex abuse at St John's.

In 1999 and again in 2001, the retired teacher Michael Cunnane received suspended sentences for indecently assaulting eight boys at the school. In 2005 Peter White, 74, formerly Brother Agnellus, was sentenced to three years after pleading guilty to eight sample charges of indecent assault on two boys.

In the same year Patrick Curran was found guilty of indecently assaulting nine boys.

He denied 237 counts of indecent assault between 1966 and 1984, but the judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison and described him as “a determined paedophile”. He was dismissed from St John's in 1999 after the allegations emerged.

Sentencing Meaney, the judge expressed shock that so many teachers could be “debauching their pupils” in the same school. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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