International News

Irish Sex Abuse Survivor: The Bar Is Too Low

By Michelle Powers

DUBLIN – When Colm O’Gorman left home just after he turned 18 years old, he spent six months on the streets of Dublin homeless and wondering what he did wrong in life to be sexually abused by a Catholic priest for years. Now he’s only left with words to describe the agony of long ago, but the horror never left him.

“I was at a youth event,” O’Gorman said. “He said to me ‘I need to talk to you. I’m worried about you. You have a problem, and I’m a priest so I can help you…’ at least now it all made sense, I’m bad and the Church is still good.”

Father Sean Fortune continued to abuse O’Gorman for years until one day, Colm decided this “priest” wasn’t going to ruin his life anymore. He ran away from home to Dublin, broken and afraid, living on the streets – but free from hell.

“I told him I had to get away,” O’Gorman said. “He offered me money if I would find, he put it, ‘someone like you, but younger than you.’ That was the last time I saw him.”

In 1999, Sean Fortune, the man who raped O’Gorman when he was only 14 years old, committed suicide before any charges were probed against him. He was never even tried in court.

No Longer Catholic

The last papal visit to Ireland was in 1979, just six months before O’Gorman was assaulted for the first time. Back then, he was still Catholic – a young boy who believed in the good of the Church and the good of God’s priests. Today, he’s Ireland’s most prominent sex abuse survivor and no longer a believer in the Church. For him, he’d prefer that Pope Francis not be here.

“All I see is that when there’s public outrage, then there’s action,” he said.

Just days before Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland, the pope released a letter of apology for clerical sex abuse, referring to the Pennsylvania grand jury for the first time. The Holy Father acknowledged a cover-up. Still, for O’Gorman, this is too little, too late.

“It’s disrespectful to ask us to simply believe that they’ve now had a ‘road to Damascus’ moment where they recognize their conduct wasn’t acceptable, but they don’t even need to name that,” he said. “It’s disrespectful to ask people to believe them.”

Many have called the Pope’s language in the letter historic as it referred the abuses as crimes and not just as sins.

Failed to Take Responsibility

“Really?” said O’Gorman.  “The bar is so low that in 2018, after everything we’ve revealed, we believe it’s a significant step forward when the Vatican that purports to be the representatives of Christ on Earth and the source of absolute truth, acknowledges that to rape a child is a crime and not just a sin? That’s progress? So what’s changed?”

He argued that the letter failed to name who was responsible for the cover-up. And when asked about the Church’s recent gains in curbing abuse, O’Gorman wasn’t sure anything really ever changed.

“Bad people do bad things but when a system exists that protects the system and the people who do these things, then those bad things become terrible.”

Pope Francis will meet with survivors during his 36 hours in Ireland. But for O’Gorman, he doesn’t support the meeting unless the pontiff speaks very specific words – ones that this survivor has been waiting to hear for nearly 40 years.

“In 1998, I asked the Vatican to tell the truth,” he said. “They used diplomatic immunity to avoid doing so. In 2018, I’m asking Pope Francis – tell the truth.”


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