Colm O'Gorman was the man who sued the Pope and helped ignite the huge scandal that arose about sexual abuse committed by priests in Ireland. It is a shocking story.
The Ireland of O'Gormans childhood seems to have been inflicted with endemic child abuse. He recounts how as a small child he was abused by two men in his village, as well as by a teenage boy; however, the significance of these incidents recedes rapidly against the experience of prolonged abuse suffered at hands of Father Sean Fortune. Fortune was able to use his authority as a priest to gain control of O'Gorman and other boys, taking them to stay in his house whenever he wanted, without ever being questioned by the boys' parents.
O'Gorman tells the story of this abuse, his physical escape from it and finally emotional escape from it. Along the way he decided to speak publicly about what had happened, discovered that many others had gone through similar experiences, set up a charity (One in Four) that helps victims of abuse, and pursued a legal case and media campaign against Fortune and the Roman Catholic Church.
A number of things particularly stood out for me in this story...
The way that abusers are able to ensure the silence of their victims is remarkable. By transferring their own shame to those they abuse they can act with impunity. I have seen this myself in people who have been abused by family members, but it is all the more the case when the abuser has the authority of a priest in Catholic Ireland.
That priests had such authority in Ireland shows what can happen when there is no clear separation between Church and State. The Catholic Church really doesn't come out of this at all well, especially when it became apparent that Bishops were protecting priests who they knew were abusers, and continuing to place them in positions where they would be able to continue their abuse. When challenged, rather than showing the repentance that a church in error should, the Catholic Church threw up the defensive walls of a powerful institution, and did all it could to obstruct justice.
O'Gormans search for relationship with his father, and the effects abuse had upon this is also harrowing. Years later their relationship is at last restored, only for O'Gormans father to die ten months later. Very sad.
Having escaped from Fortune, O'Gorman ended up in first Dublin and then London, and lived on the streets at times - only surviving by exchanging his body for a bed and shower. The book ends positively enough with O'Gorman now at peace with himself, working as director of Amnesty International in Ireland. A measure of justice for the victims of abuse has been achieved and the Catholic Church has finally put better child protection procedures in place. But there aren't really any winners in this. It is all just horrible.