An Irish Play Seeks to Ease the Pain of Child Abuse Survivors
March 29, 2003 By BRIAN LAVERY
DUBLIN, March 28 - For the better part of a decade, the issue of child
sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy has
stayed at the forefront of public awareness here, usually in the form
of national confessions broadcast during prime time.
For the last two weeks, this chapter in Irish history has also been brought
to life onstage in a fringe theater here.
A chaotic and cathartic one-man play by a survivor of such abuse, Gerard
Mannix Flynn, tells the story of one man's troubled life, from birth to
the savage reality of sexual abuse and its aftermath.
"This show concludes my personal journey, as a private individual
in my struggle with my inner self and with my
soul," Mr. Flynn said in an interview.
He says that the play, "James X," is only loosely based on his
own life, but the performance is accompanied by a
dossier of photocopied documents that were mostly taken from his personal
file at the Department of Health, dating from age 7.
The most high-profile cases of child sexual abuse here involved priests
who were sheltered from prosecution by the church authorities.
But abuse was even more widespread, and underreported, in Ireland's so-called
industrial schools, a system of church-run reformatories that housed children
who were seen as delinquents, or whose parents, especially single
mothers, were considered unfit guardians by the church. Mr. Flynn, who
is 45, spent time in two of the country's most notorious institutions.
Throughout the 20th century, more than 150,000 people passed through these
institutions, many of which forced
children to work in bakeries, on farms or in rudimentary manufacturing
operations, for the profit of the religious orders who ran them.
In December, an official body began taking applications from survivors
of that system who want compensation and are willing to give up their
right to file criminal charges against a religious order or individual.
In "James X," the narrator speaks to the audience while waiting
nervously outside the courtroom where he is
scheduled to give testimony for his compensation claim.
On March 20, the Residential Institutions Redress Board said it had received
773 applications since it opened its
doors. Hundreds and possibly thousands more are expected before the deadline
The board has become a political disaster for the Irish government, because
of a year-old deal that limited
Catholic orders' financial liability for the board's awards to 128 million
euros, or $138 million; taxpayers will pay
Mr. Flynn said that he would not seek compensation from the board, and
that it could not in any case adequately
compensate victims for the wrongs perpetrated against them. That is because
a childhood in industrial schools often left them poor, uneducated and
inarticulate, and therefore unable to use the legal system, he said.
"Whatever is left of you will be torn to shreds," he said. "They're
going to cross-examine you, they're going to regard you as a liar. You're
going to be the accused, even though you're the one who's making allegations."
Christine Buckley, a founder of the Aislinn Center for survivors of industrial
schools, said that when she saw Mr.
Flynn's play with other survivors of industrial schools, many people had
to leave because the material was too troubling.
Critics have hailed it as an essential document of a shameful part of
Ireland's past, and Project, the theater
hosting "James X," staged an extra performance this weekend
to meet demand for tickets.
The redress board will not be able to help survivors move past their abuse
until Irish society and the Irish
government also become more honest, Mr. Flynn said.
"They make it impossible for people to find any redress, and to find
any healing," he said.