Mental health disorders, child sex abuse and the Roman Catholic Church

Mental health disorders, child sex abuse and the Roman Catholic Church

By Catherine Walker

Enda Kenny, Irish Prime Minister, has accused the Roman Catholic Church of attempting to hinder a probe into allegations of child sex-abuse by priests.  As a result the Vatican has recalled its ambassador to Ireland. 

The Irish government has called for a quick response from the Vatican over the church’s handling of allegations against 33 clerics of the sexual abuse of children.  This is alleged to have taken place in the Cloyne diocese of southern Ireland between 1996 and 2009.

This, and many other similar news stories, is being circulated around the world, about alleged cases of child sex-abuse by Roman Catholic Priests.

A reader contacted Mental Healthy over the weekend with her own personal account of such abuse.  She wishes to be known as Isabel Davies and in order to respect her wish to remain anonymous we will do so. 

Isabel read a piece of news in the Windsor Star, which recalls the alleged sexual abuse of two children by priests in the 1960s.  The article includes comments from a psychologist who has worked with many victims of child abuse at the hands of priest.  The psychologist says that ‘the lives which victims describe to therapists decades after the abuse follow a depressing pattern of failed relationships, chaotic living circumstances, substance abuse and mental health problems.’

Isabel says ‘I wept as I read the accounts of these two tragic abuse survivors.  I read their stories as if they were my own account.’

‘When I was still in primary school I was subjected to abuse over a sustained period of time.  I was at a Roman Catholic School at that time and there was a priest who held masses for the nuns who taught us.  He would occasionally come into school to give us religious instruction.’

‘I don’t know how old he was but as a child he seemed to be very old.  I lived on a farm with my family and Father P would come for walks at the weekend.  These walks always brought him past our farm and he would stop for refreshments.  He always took the opportunity to get me alone and then he would molest me.  He never raped me but he would sit next to me with a piece of cake in one hand whilst he fondled my private areas with the other.’

‘Sometimes this would happen with my mother just in the kitchen next door but I never called out.  I didn’t know what he was doing, I didn’t know what ‘sex’ was.  I just knew that I didn’t like what he was doing, I didn’t like it when he breathed faster and sweated.’

‘I thought that I was bad because I did not like what he was doing.  After all he was a priest, a man of God.’

‘I endured him for many months at least, it could have been for as long as a couple of years.  I was young and I have blocked it from my mind for too many years.’

Isabel has had mental health problems for the last 25 years.  She has battled demons, survived two divorces and conquered addiction to prescribed medication but she never understood why her life had always felt like such a mess.  Then she read this article and a light came on.

‘I turned my back on God for many years.  I considered myself to be sinful and weak.  Only if we speak out about these things can we come to terms with what happened and hopefully forgive ourselves for what we saw as being in some way our own fault.’

Being abused as a child can result in significant mental health problems.  This is intensified if the abuser is in a position of power and influence, which is nearly always the case.  The longer a victim goes without treatment the more deeply they can be damaged. 

We thank Isabel for opening up to us and have pointed her in the right direction to get the help that she needs.  We wish her all the best on her road to recovery. 

We would like to point out that although this feature is topical due to the Roman Catholic priests being in the news, sexual abuse occurs in many forms and in many places each as disturbing for its victims.

If you have been a victim of abuse you may like to check out the following sources of help:

Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre freephone helpline:

0808 802 9999 

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