Monday, June 15, 2009

Priest calls abused children "ruffians"
Outcry after priest brands abuse children 'ruffians'
By Eimear Ni Bhraonain and Declan McSweeney
Monday June 15 2009

PARISHIONERS were furious yesterday after complaining that the priest described inmates at a notorious reform school as "ruffians".

Last night Monsignor Thomas Coonan said he did not intend to offend anyone when talking about the Daingean school, which was shamed in the recent Ryan report on institutional abuse. He said his remarks had been taken out of context.

But parishioners attending Sunday Mass at St Joseph's Church in Ballinagar, Co Offaly, expressed disgust at the tone of the remarks, especially as the church is just four miles from the old St Conleth's Reformatory in Daingean.

One Mass-goer said that Msgr Coonan also told the congregation two weeks ago that he had spoken to someone who denied the allegations made in the Ryan report.

It is understood some parishioners became visibly upset and walked out of the church on that Sunday.

Msgr Coonan would not confirm or deny whether he described the inmates as "ruffians" when contacted by the Irish Independent last night.

But he insisted he was speaking in the context of the Eucharist and not on the Ryan report.

However, he admitted he said "not all of the boys in the Daingean reformatory were angels".

But he added that he never intended his comments to cause any offence and he regretted and withdrew them if they had offended people. He also said he had condemned the abuse in the institution.

But John Kelly, of Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA), who attended the Daingean reformatory, said he was "outraged" by the remarks made by Msgr Coonan.

"I was in Daingean, I can say my mother fought tooth and nail to get me out of there. She sent in requests to have me released into a trade because I was getting no education in Daingean," he said.

"My family wanted me, we were child slaves, and it's wrong to say we were 'ruffians'. I got flogged naked, the abusers are the ones who were ruffians, they were terrorists, they terrorised children."

Mr Kelly said people like Msgr Coonan had "outdated attitudes".


"I met the people of Daingean on the open day two years ago. It's the public who believe us and support us."

He commended the people who walked out of the church: "They stood up to him; they are the people who are not in denial.

"Other parishes need to stand up to people who hold these outdated attitudes. That's what got us into this in the first place."

Meanwhile, a Church of Ireland bishop said every institution in Ireland must look at itself to see what abuses or injustices they perpetuate.

Bishop Paul Colton said there had not been "sufficient pause for thought and reflection" in the wake of the Ryan report.

He said sections of Irish society used the report as a springboard towards a secularising agenda. In the midst of this trauma, the only people who mattered were the victims, he said. "They must be the centre of all our concerns and efforts. In the aftermath of the report, people who were abused should be the priority of this nation, its institutions and of all of us."

The Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork added: "As we have seen again and again, their tears continue to flow. Only the victims matter."

- Eimear Ni Bhraonain and Declan McSweeney

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