How death of a schoolgirl revealed ‘underworld of nastiness’ in the Church
Gay Byrne has described his feelings when he realised the Church was hiding shocking secrets from its followers and the lay authorities.
The veteran broadcaster features in an RTE documentary Last Orders, which looks at the institutional abuse inflicted on children by the Church. Gay tells how he attended a Christian Brothers school in Dublin and was brought up as a devout Catholic, a process in 1950s Ireland that involved him suffering several beatings from his teachers.
It was something he accepted as normal, as did millions of others from his generation.
However, the authority of the Church began to recede from the 1960s onwards. Its reputation then plummeted with the priest child abuse scandals in the 1980s and 90s.
Gay says he, and indeed the rest of the country, began to fear that the Church was covering up dark secrets, back in 1984 following the tragic case of Ann Lovett, who died shortly after giving birth to a stillborn baby boy at a grotto in Granard, Co Longford.
The story unleashed “a huge collective anger to young women who became pregnant out of wedlock” but also prompted many women to come forward to say how the Church had turned its back on them. Some women wrote to him on his radio show to reveal how they had been raped and abused.
“It is my personal belief the Ann Lovett case was the first time that little slab had been raised under which existed this whole underworld of nastiness.”
He reveals how he received a letter from Christine Buckley, who was born out of wedlock after her Irish mother had a relationship with a 20 year old Nigerian medical student in the 1940s. The affair brought shame on the family and Christine was sent Goldenbridge orphanage where she suffered years of abuse and hardship.
She later became a leading campaigner against institutional abuse.
Other women wrote to Gay saying they had become pregnant after being raped, or that their children had been taken away from them by the Church because they weren’t married. One woman who had a baby out of wedlock said “the priest told me I’d pay for my sins for rest of my life”.
All the letters carried the recurring theme of the Church failing the people.
The documentary also explores how the Church censored books, films and newspapers and frowned on the very mention of sex.
Gay said: “Sin was everything and the great mortal sin was anything to do with sex. How they expected a girl to meet a boy, or a boy to meet a girl, I don’t know. This was hell fire and brimstone.”
Last Orders will be shown on RTE One tonight at 9.35pm. Take a look at the trailer below.