Amid the low rolling plains, where the coastal mountains dot the northwest corner of Ireland, lies the beautiful county of Donegal. There, in the rural village of Gortahork, where Gaelic primarily is spoken among the 1,600 residents, lies the Catholic Parish of Criost Ri (Christ the King). Known for its natural diverse, rugged beauty, Gortahork is infamous – not as the home of Gerry Adams, the leader of the Sinn Féin political party, but for the wreckage of many young lives. Tragically, this beautiful, quaint hamlet harbors a dark and menacing secret.
Clerical sex abuse hangs like a fog over this village. Across the road from Christ the King Church lies its Catholic cemetery. The Celtic cross gravestones jut above ground like the Errigal Mountain off in the distance. Herein, buried in the graveyard, among Donegal’s aged dead, lie the graves of eight young men who committed suicide. All eight were victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Their deaths symbolize the unrelenting pain and trauma gripping victims of clerical sex abuse around the world – eight young Donegal men tortured with the vile memories of their spiritual and sexual assault by trusted priests.
Clerical sex abuse is soul murder. The body and soul are violated by the predator priest. Nothing remains but a brittle and broken shell of a person.
Child advocates and law enforcement who have investigated know that clerical sex abuse is unique from all other abuse. Clerical sex abuse leaves its victims with physical, emotional, and spiritual devastation. So devastated are clerical victims that they more often turn to suicide for relief from the shame and memories of their assault.
Why do so many victims of clerical abuse take their own lives? What causes the high incidence of suicide among victims of clerical sex abuse?
The answer may lie in the hideous nature of child sexual abuse by a man of God. The grooming words of notorious sexual predator Cardinal McCarrick are instructive. They portray the depth of depravity and spiritual torture employed by clerical abusers.
James, the 11-year-old McCarrick victim, recalls the spiritual power trip utilized by the offending priest: “He would always tell me that I was his special boy, that God gave me to him, so we could worship together and be happy together. He told me he had the power to get God to forgive me all my sins. That my father didn’t have that power. That’s the aura.”
The predator priest often uses God to groom the victim. How perfect, to subdue and intimidate a child! When the powerful predator invokes God as a consenting participant in the abuse, the child victim is left defenseless, devoid of spiritual help. The abuser supplants God as a willing cooperator in order to diabolically silence the victim into submission. As James recounts, McCarrick told him hundreds and hundreds of times, “God will only listen to you when you are with me.”
The unique and heinous spiritual abuse perpetrated upon clerical sex abuse victims robs these children of hope and escape. Their world is turned upside-down, with God not as their savior, but as their tormentor. The priest, portraying himself as in persona Christi, sadistically warps any sense of good and evil for the child. He loses all hope. For the soul tormented with utter hopelessness, no belief in a better future, no chance of recovery, it seems that only suicide remains.
In his response to the Archbishop Viganò testament about McCarrick’s history of predation and the Vatican’s knowledge of it, Cardinal Marc Ouellet callously dismissed McCarrick’s crimes and thus exposed the Vatican’s disdain for the suffering of clerical sex abuse victims:
I strongly doubt that McCarrick was of interest to him [Pope Francis] to the point that you believed him to be, since at the moment he was an 82-year-old archbishop emeritus who had been without an appointment for seven years.
In essence, Ouellet provides the excuse that since McCarrick is an old man, despite decades of abuse, which was never prosecuted or investigated by the Church, he is given a papal pass.
Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro referenced the number of suicide victims in his press conference when he unveiled the damning Pennsylvania clergy abuse report in August.
In the 2004 John Jay Report on the U.S. clergy abuse scandal, the authors described the particular impact on clergy abuse victims (p. 217):
The effects of sexual abuse on the victims vary, but the impact is long lasting and may result in sexual depersonalization, depression, sexually acting out, and suicide. When a child has been victimized by a priest, the impact of the abuse effects how the child perceives God, the Church and the clergy. The abuse also raises the question as to how these institutions will view the victim.
Australia, Ireland, and America seem to be especially vulnerable to the suicide ticking time bomb among clergy abuse victims.
The Catholic Church in Australia is particularly noteworthy for incidents of suicide among its victims of clergy abuse. Aussie law enforcement has documented the high incidence of suicide among these victims:
CONFIDENTIAL police reports have detailed the suicides of at least 40 people sexually abused by Catholic clergy in Victoria, and have urged a new inquiry into these and many other deaths suspected to be linked to abuse in the church.
In a damning assessment of the church’s handling of abuse issues, the reports say it appears the church has known about a shockingly high rate of suicides and premature deaths but has “chosen to remain silent.”
The reports state that while conducting lengthy inquiries into paedophile clergy, investigators have discovered “an inordinate number of suicides which appear to be a consequence of sexual offending.”
“The number of people contacting this office to report members of their family, people they know, people they went to school with, who have taken their lives is constant. It would appear that an investigation would uncover many more deaths as a consequence of clergy sexual abuse,” one of the reports states.
Dr. A.W. Richard Sipe, the prominent expert and child advocate for clergy abuse victims, who died during this past summer of shame, delivered a prescient 16-page plea to San Diego bishop Robert McElroy in 2016. The letter warned McElroy about McCarrick’s sexual predation and the fatal effects of clergy abuse. Sipe pleaded with Bishop McElroy:
I have tried to help the Church understand and heal the wounds of sexual abuse by clergy. My services have not been welcomed.
My appeal to you has been for pastoral attention to victims of abuse and the long term consequences of that violation. This includes the effects of suicidal attempts. Only a bishop can minister to these wounds.
It is apparent that Francis, the bishop of Rome, is uninterested in ministering to these wounds. He dismisses them as “rumors” and intimates that those who blow the whistle are in league the devil, the “great Accuser, who roams the world looking for ways to accuse.”
Time has run out for this papacy. The global sex abuse scandal has engulfed Francis and his cabal with his inaction over, promotion of, and facilitation of predatory clerics. His papacy is mired in corruption, apathy, and malfeasance over his total abdication of responsibility for this massive crisis.
The Irish are known for their long memories and fiery tempers. The Donegal winds blow a menacing warning from the graves of the eight young men of Gortahork. Their now silenced voices cry out for vengeance and justice against the Church and its pope, who dismisses their pain and abuse as mere rumors.
There’s an old Gaelic saying that Pope Francis should heed: “Truth speaks even though the tongue were dead.” We will not forget the boys of Donegal. Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord.
Elizabeth Yore is an Attorney and International Child Rights Advocate. She served as one of the members of the Heartland Institute delegation to protest the Vatican exclusion of all scientific opinions and reliance on population control experts. She served as Child Advocate and Special Counsel at the South African Leadership Academy for Girls. She was the General Counsel of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She received her B.A. from Georgetown University and her J.D. from Loyola University Law School in Chicago.