Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Brother Maurice and I [Part 2]

Brother Maurice c 1970 greeting Superior General Charles Henry Buttimer

This is a followup up to my original post The Reason Why: Brother Maurice Kirk and I [Part 1]

The "Working Party on the on the Future Involvement of Religious in Education" under the chairmanship of Rev. Paul Andrews, S.J. named the F.I.R.E. Report was in February 1973, handed to the Major Religious Superiors and the Hierarchy, of whose Education Commissions Brother Maurice Kirk was then Chairman.... The F.I.R.E. Report was confidential but large sections of it were published in the press. In the light of the decline in the numbers and proportion of religious in the schools the report considered a number of strategies and recommended that religious should begin, in a carefully phased way, to concentrate their forces into a small number of schools which would generally be of the order of 400 pupils. The report suggested favourable consideration of co-educational schools as a result of such mergers. The F.I.R.E. Report made it abundantly clear that the Catholic school system in Ireland had been based on sacrifice - on the utter sacrifice of a comparatively small number of priests, nuns and brothers. They led Spartan lives of self-denial and provided education without cost to multitudes. The history of their primal devotion shows that originally they fulfilled needs that were not taken care of by any other agency. They stepped in and took over. They are not any longer needed in many of these field. But they are necessary for special apostolates.  [Brother John Towey F.S.C. 1980]

Brother Maurice Kirk, Provincial, 1968-1974

In 1968 Brother Aloysius O'Brien, after 21 years in office, handed over the administration of the [Irish] Province to Brother Maurice Kirk. The previous career of the new provincial had followed a pattern common to many brothers in Ireland. After attending the brothers' school in Dundalk until the age of fourteen, he had entered the juniorate at Castletown [Co. Laois] in 1942. There followed in the usual course the novitiate in Castletown and the conclusion of his studies up to the Leaving Certificate in Faithlegg [Co. Waterford]. He then went to the training college in Waterford, and on the conclusion of his course there, was sent to teach in Skerries. Two years later he was sent to Ely Place to study for a Degree at the National University, specialising in Irish, Latin and history. Having gained his Bachelor's degree he followed the Thirty-days Retreat in Mallow and made his final religious profession. His next assignment was the recently opened school in Churchtown, Rathfarnham, where in addition to teaching full-time, he followed evening lectures in preparation for the Higher Diploma in Education. Having spent three years in Churchtown he was sent on the missions for which he had volunteered. And so in 1956, he arrived at St. Joseph's College, Curepipe, in the island of Mauritius, and remained there for six years. In 1962 he was summoned to Rome to make the second novitiate of nine months duration, after which he was appointed sub-director of novices at Castletown. Two years later he succeeded Brother Oswin Walsh as novice master, and it was from this position of peacefulness and solicitude that he was chosen by the District Chapter to shoulder the responsibilities of provincial. 

The massive upheaval following Vatican II, which had so seriously affected the last years of his predecessor, was still having its effect, resulting in numerous defections and the drying up of vocations to the religious life. Traditionally accepted truths and practices were being called into question and abandoned, while in the world at large, permissiveness and moral laxity were deeply affecting the rising generation. Brother Maurice Kirk's six years in office, ending in tragic circumstances, were thus inevitably a period of profound change and even disarray.

To assist him in his arduous task he could rely on the wisdom and experience of his auxiliary, Brother Oliver Rice. Not for long however, for on 4 October 1969 Brother Oliver died. He was succeeded by Brother Finbarr O'Shea, a native of Lombardstown, Mallow Co. Cork, who for six years had been Professor of Education at the training college in Waterford before becoming director and headmaster of Colaiste Iosagain, Ballyvourney, in 1964. There were at this time 340 finally professed brothers in the Province of Ireland, 86 with temporary profession and 17 novices, while some twenty brothers were full time students at the university. With this personnel Brother Maurice had to staff 29 primary schools, 23 secondary schools,  two boarding colleges and five preparatory schools. In addition the mission in South Africa and Mauritius had to be staffed by Irish Brothers.

In the first years of Brother Maurice Kirk's administration some rearrangements were made at Castletown which for ninety years had been the administrative and formative centre of the Province. In 1947 a section of the juniorate had been moved to Mallow and the provincialate had been moved to Kilmacud in Dublin in 1968. Now it was decided to move the novitiate, and this was done in 1970. Since the residence at Mount Pleasant, Loughrea Co. Galway, which was to be the site of the novitiate was not ready, the novices went first to Faithlegg where they remained one year. Meanwhile, in Castletown a welcome addition was made in 1971 with the construction of Miguel House for retired and infirm brothers.

Miguel House, Castletown, 1971

At a meeting of the District Council in February 1970 the decision was taken to build a residence in Castletown where those brothers who had laboured for many years in schools in Ireland or in the missions in South Africa, Mauritius or Australia, could spend their last years in congenial surroundings, in peace and quiet, with all the care and facilities they needed. On 15 May 1971 Miguel House was blessed and officially opened by Bishop Peter Birch of Ossory in the presence of Mother M. Genevieve, provincial, Sisters of the Christian Schools, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr. P.J. Lawlor, the parish priest of Castletown, Reverend J. O'Rourke, and many friends of the Order. Brother Maurice Kirk welcomed the Sisters of the Christian Schools who would nurse and care for the brothers and Bishop Birch praised the work of the community in providing Miguel House for elderly members of the Irish Province and expressed the wish that something similar would be undertaken on behalf of elderly people in all areas.............

Time of Great Concern

In 1971 Brother Maurice Kirk was re-elected provincial for another three years. In a letter convoking a meeting of directors and headmasters in Finglas, Dublin, he wrote in light of his experience of the previous three years: "Difficulties like the decision in regard to Community Schools, difficulties in regard to vocations, recruitment and perseverance, are all causing great concern, but in the last analysis it is the way we live as religious that is all important".
 Besides, he was increasingly hampered by the amount of attention he was called upon to give, as the representative of the other religious orders and of his own, to the educational problems of the time and with regard to which he wrote to the communities on 18 March 1972:
Our days are filled with meetings in the Department, in dialogue with Church leaders, in coping with increasing pressure from Brothers and particularly headmasters; documents, memoranda, in depth studies, plans, cover our desks and await our attention. Presure groups in the Government, mass media and teacher organistions refus eto be pacified or silenced. We have arrived at a crossroads where choices ahead demand serious examination. We have reached a critical moment in the history of the Irish District where study, creative thinking, courage and decision will be demanded of ALL.

As a result of the schools' population explosion the Brothers are too thinly spread to be effective, to give a Lasallian education Our resources are limited so we must seek to employ them to the best advantage.....To be scattered in ever-decreasing numbers in a multiplicity of schools is to become less effective, with an ever-increasing loss of identity and purpose. What then are we to do?

Having taken note of the opinions of the brothers he made three decisions: to withdraw from some small isolated primary schools; to withdraw from some of the secondary schools; to maintain the boarding schools in Waterford and Ballyvourney. Accordingly but not without considerable regret, the brothers were withdrawn from Bruff, Cavan, Manorhamilton and Ballyshannon. On the subject of Community Schools Brother Maurice Kirk, in May 1972, explained his position thus to the brothers: "It is my opinion that the imposition of the Community Schools, as envisaged by the Department, and for general application right across the country, is inherently undemocratic and dangerous and this I have made known to the Department officials". On the subject of Community Schools, however, he was soon to change his mind.

High on the list of places where it seemed to the Department desirable to establish a Community School was Ardee, Co Louth, which was within the parliamentary constituency of the then Minister for Education, Mr. Patrick Faulkner. The situation there offered an obvious opportunity and to initiate the project in Ardee appeared to Mr Faulkner to be the natural thing to do. The manager of the secondary school in Ardee at this moment was Brother Imar Brosnan, but he was soon to be succeeded by Brother Ultan Sherlock.

Ardee and the Community Schools Question

For some considerable time discussions had been taking place regarding the inadequate facilities in the secondary schools of the brothers and nuns in Ardee, and as a result of discussions in 1968-69 a form of amalgamation had been agreed upon to improve the conditions. For a more permanent solution to the problem of accommodation assistance had been sought from the Department. The Department however had other plans in mind as can be seen from the following extract from a letter, dated 14 September 1970, written by Mr. Faulkner to Cardinal Conway:

Ardee has a post primary enrollment of 450 pupils. I am convinced that from the educational as well as from the social and economic points of view a single post-primary school would provide a better service for the area and all the children in it. If we were to look further to the idea of a community school, serving many community interests and with community involvement, further advantages could accrue from a single unit. ...........

[A letter from the Minister for Education Patrick Faulkner to Sister Aquinas of the Convent of Mercy dated 12 October 1971] contained a strong plea for co-operation on the part of the Religious in particular in the implementation of the Community School concept:

... My request to you, to your community and to all other communities is to involve yourself in a way in which you have never been involved before. In this way I am convinced that the role of the religious in education will be increased rather than diminished. If any evidence of this is required it is there in the cases where Brothers and Nuns have become involved in the work of Vocational Schools and Comprehensive Schools.

At a meeting on 9 February 1973 Brother Maurice Kirk and his District Council decided to participate in the proposed Community School in Ardee "provided satisfactory arrangements are worked out with regard to compensation, the appointing of the Headmaster and Secretary to the Board of Management and the guaranteed number of places, five for Brothers on the teaching staff.

A Tragic Accident

Brother Maurice Kirk met his death in a car accident on 10 April 1974. He was travelling from the provincialate in Dublin to Belfast where a number of brothers were gathered at St Clement's, the Redemptorist retreat centre. With him were provincial secretary Brother Bernard O'Donovan, and a young brother, Patrick Black. The Irish Independent the following day related what happened:

The accident occurred at a wide stretch of the main Dublin-Belfast road at Piltown, a mile outside Drogheda. Witnesses said that the Brothers's car had apparently gone out of control as it passed a lorry. It struck the lorry and then veered across the road to become embedded beneath the trailer of an Irish Bottle Glass Company lorry travelling in the opposite direction. The car was almost flattened in the accident and there was very little that passing motorists could do to help.

The funeral in Castletown on Holy Saturday was the occasion of a great demonstration of the high esteem in which Brother Maurice Kirk was held by both the brothers and the general public, and of the deep sympathy for the Order that his tragic death inspired. At the inquest a doctor gave as his verdict that Brothers Maurice and Bernard had died instantly. Brother Peter, who did not regain consciousness, died on 13th. The following day Brother Oswin Walsh, [his predecessor as Novice Master] "who must have been profoundly affected by the frightening cutting off of such promising lives", died suddenly. His passing "seemed to fill to the top the bitter chalice presented to our lips in Holy Week, 1974".

One would refer briefly to a few of the tributes paid to Brother Maurice Kirk. The Minister for Education, Mr. Richard Burke, paid him this tribute:

As Provincial of the De La Salle Order and as Chairman of the Education Committee of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, Brother Maurice was in constant touch with my Department. He participated in long and complex negotiations in many important issues, particularly in regard to the development of community schools and in relation to the comprehensive idea generally.

Brother Maurice was an ardent devotee of the voluntary secondary school. He was totally convinced of the value of the ethos created in schools controlled by Catholic Religious Orders.He was, nevertheless, prepared to consider educational involvement by Religious in other ways, such as would be required in a community school context. His agreement to the development of community schools in Ardee and Muine Bheag (Bagenalstown) was greatly valued because it was not lightly given. The same dedication and the same sincerity of purpose was apparent in Brother Maurice's every undertaking.

The Finglas Child Centre was of special concern to him and his contribution to its development was substantial. Shortly before his death he had asked for a discussion of the terms of a permanent agreement between the Order and my Department in the management of the Centre, the opening of which has marked the opening of a new era in the care and treatment of young offenders. The contribution which Brother Maurice would have made to these important discussions would undoubtedly have demonstrated once again his capacity for clear and objective thought and his passionate concern to ensure that his Order's exceptional expertise in this area was used to the best possible advantage. 

Because of his own splendid spirit of dedication and self-sacrifice in the service of his Order and because of his specialist knowledge, perseverance and understanding, the loss of Brother Maurice to Irish education is immense. His life and work are a shining example to us all.

A tribute to Brother Maurice Kirk with a totally different emphasis came from the Assistant General of the Jesuits, Very Rev. Cecil McGarry, who had been provincial of the Irish Province of the society:

I first met Brother Maurice in late 1968. We had each just begun our terms of office as provincials in our respective orders. There seemed to be from the beginning a natural affinity between us, an easy meeting of minds, a similarity of outlook, a shared sense of how much more the Religious of Ireland could achieve if they knew each other better and worked together more harmoniously. It wasn't that we began to work together; a real friendship began to grow. I found in him wonderful personal qualities of charm, gentleness, patience warmth and understanding. But he was not soft. On matters of principle and even of practice when he considered them very important, he could be firm almost to inflexibility. Yet he always took up positions with an openness to another point of view, but he was intellectually decisive.....

Brother Maurice was truly a man for others. He was at everyone's service - frequently taking two telephone calls simultaneously! The extent to which people turned to him for help and relied on him is a sure indication of the spirit of service and self-forgetfulness which animated his entire life. He worked from morning to night but he was never harassed. This quality of serenity and peace in the midst of almost frenetic activity never ceased to amaze me. I believe he could live like this because of his deep faith and trust in God, his closeness to him in prayer even in the midst of very demanding activities. When watching him responding to unceasing calls on his time and energies, I often thought that he had made his own the conviction of St. Paul that to those that love God all things work together unto good. He accepted quite simply that he could meet God in his life of action and service to others  as he could in prayer. And I believe he did...

A paper The School and the Transmission of Values read by Brother Maurice Kirk at a seminar organised by the Convent Conference of Catholic Secondary Schools in October 1973 was published by the Secretariat of Secondary Schools (Dublin, 1975) as a dedication to his memory and as a tribute to his immense work on behalf of Catholic schools as chairman of the Education Commission of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors.

Finally, as a mark of esteem for the great work done by Brother Maurice Kirk on behalf of all the Religious Congregation engaged in education the Executive of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors decided to establish a burse to provide educational opportunity for pupils of the De La Salle schools. At the District Council held on 12 October 1974 various suggestions were made as to the best way to use this fund.

In the event it was decided to invest the capital in the bank, and to award the annual interest to one or other of the brothers' schools to be used as the staff thought best. In this way the memory of Brother Maurice Kirk would be perpetuated.


Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Reason Why: Brother Maurice Kirk and I [Part 1]

Brother Maurice Kirk, De La Salle Novice Master and Provincial 1966-74


I have written about Brother Maurice before in the "About Me" section of my old website and what follows in this article is an edited version. Some months ago I came across a second hand copy of a book by the late Brother John Towey F.S.C. "Irish De La Salle Brothers in Christian Education" (Dublin, De La Salle, 1980) that includes a longish section on Brother Maurice when he was head of the Irish Province of the De La Salle Brothers from 1968 until his death in a car accident in 1974.I will quote extracts from this book in a second article - and especially the tributes paid to Brother Maurice by the then Minister for Education Mr Richard Burke and the then Provincial of the Irish Jesuits (from 1968-75), Very Rev. Cecil McGarry. I have a feeling that Brother Maurice was not an uncritical admirer of Fr. McGarry!

It is interesting that Brother John barely mentions Brother Maurice role as Novice Master from 1966 to 68 - the role in which he had such a huge influence on my life - and concentrates on his period as head of the Irish Province. But that's how History operates!

Also I note that, after his death, the executive of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors decided to establish a burse to provide educational opportunity for De La Salle pupils but were unable to decide exactly how the money should be used. Perhaps that was symptomatic of the end of an era for the Brothers, the Catholic Church  and a great deal more. 

I think of Brother Maurice as one of the last figures in a line of educators that began with Thomas Arnold headmaster of Rugby School from 1828 to 1841, where he introduced a number of reforms that were widely copied by other prestigious public schools. As per Wikipedia "His reforms redefined standards of masculinity and achievement." Arnold was made famous posthumously by one of his pupils Thomas Hughes whose semi-autobiographical novel Tom Browne's Schooldays  [1] was based on his own time at Rugby. I am no Thomas Hughes but then I am writing about the end of that age! . 

[ The founder of the modern Olympic Games Baron de Coubertin [2] visited English public schools, including Rugby in 1886. When looking at Arnold's tomb in the school chapel he recalled he felt, suddenly, as if he were looking upon "the very cornerstone of the British empire". We are living in an era of endings! ]

Rory Connor
21 September 2019

[1]  The novel was not primarily written as an entertainment. As Hughes said:
Several persons, for whose judgment I have the highest respect, while saying very kind things about this book, have added, that the great fault of it is 'too much preaching'; but they hope I shall amend in this matter should I ever write again. Now this I most distinctly decline to do. Why, my whole object in writing at all was to get the chance of preaching! When a man comes to my time of life and has his bread to make, and very little time to spare, is it likely that he will spend almost the whole of his yearly vacation in writing a story just to amuse people? I think not. At any rate, I wouldn't do so myself.

[2] As per Wikipedia, "Coubertin is thought to have exaggerated the importance of sport to Thomas Arnold, whom he viewed as "one of the founders of athletic chivalry". The character-reforming influence of sport, with which Coubertin was so impressed, is more likely to have originated in the novel Tom Brown's School Days than exclusively in the ideas of Arnold himself." 
Thomas Hughes himself was a first class cricketer rather than a great scholar, so the enduring myth of Rugby may be as much his creation as Arnold's BUT Arnold was his inspiration! However, I believe that the "character-forming influence of sport" was a central idea for Brother Maurice.

A) Letter to Lady who Asked Me About My Motives

22 April 2003

Dear Ms ......

Thank you very much. The questions are a little difficult to answer by E mail. I have been pursuing this kind of issue for some years now and what seems obvious to me, may be difficult for a "newcomer" to grasp because I may be unconsciously assuming that other people know things with which I am very familiar. For example did you even hear of Nora Wall before and if not have I supplied sufficient background data?(The key factor is that she is a former nun - if  people don't realise that, then I must appear to be speaking in riddles).

My Background and Reasons for Action
I was a member of the De La Salle Brothers from about September 1966  to about March 1969: I was aged 16 to 19 and spent most of my time in training though I taught for several months in 3 schools (mainly filling in for absent teachers). The training period in the Novitiate in Castletown  was the formative experience of my life and the Novice master,  the late Br. Maurice Kirk influenced me as much as my parents, if not more so. I doubt if he regarded me as one of his most promising students and I think he would be very surprised by my metamorphosis (He became Provincial of the Brothers and was killed in a car crash about 1974).

I would say that this is by far the most important factor in my present Crusade - if you want to call it that. I was always annoyed at the tone of sneering abuse which our "liberal" intellectuals adopt when referring to the Catholic Church. Over the past several years their blood libels and false allegations of child abuse have driven me to distraction (I am perfectly well aware that there are true allegations of abuse as well - but by the same token, not everything Julius Streicher ** wrote about the Jews is false.)

The second reason for my actions is that around Christmas 1994 (? I think) I came across a boy whom I thought might be the victim of child abuse (by his step-father). I helped him to some extent but then became afraid that I would be the target of a bogus allegation myself. So I dropped him though he was lonely and expected to see me again. In normal circumstances I would have had no problem in approaching the Social Services and asking for a discreet investigation. However hysteria was already in the air and I thought I could not possibly make an accusation on the very limited evidence I had. (Remember what Dr. Moira Woods did to Eddie Hernon?). Also because of the hysteria, I felt I could not investigate further. It was a vicious circle. I spoke to a number of friends about this at the time and everyone told me not to get involved.

Finally for 6 months or so in 1995 I was involved in an extremely ugly confrontation at work with a female member of staff who ended up by accusing me of sexual harassment. I fought this issue all the way to the top and became a delegate to the Annual Delegate Conference of the Public Service Executive Union (April 1996?) for the specific purpose of moving a Motion on bogus allegations of sexual harassment (i.e. no-one else wanted that job). The full time officials of the Union opposed my Motion but I got it passed anyway. In my speech to the ADC I insisted on referring to a bogus allegation of child abuse made against an Irish Bishop. This probably hindered my case rather than helped it but I was making certain connections (for example where did that lady get her ideas from?).

Oddly enough I believe that this last issue is the least important and I believe I would have pursued my current campaign even if it never happened. (I had a half reconciliation with the lady afterwards but do not anticipate any with the likes of Patsy McGarry and Co).

This is getting too long and I will answer your other queries separately.


Rory Connor

** Nazi editor of Der Sturmer who accused the Jews of being sexual perverts who murdered Christian boys. (He also said that there were Jews in the Mafia and among Stalin's hencemen - that part is true).

(B) Extract from a Discussion on the Website

[ I recently copied this discussion into my blog article on Father Michael Sweetman. ]

Dear SR
You are absolutely right: The Black Internationale has got Tim! I was a De La Salle Brother from 1966 to 69 and it was the formative experience of my life. My novice master Brother Maurice Kirk was as important as my parents if not more so. (He became head of the De La Salle Order in Ireland and was killed in a car crash on 10 April 1974.)

In September 1967 at the end of our training a Jesuit priest Father Michael Sweetman gave us a 9 day Retreat (spiritual conference for you pagans). It's true what the Jesuits say: when they control a child's education they have him for life!

Comment by: Rory Connor at February 23, 2005 05:25 PM

(C) FATHER MICHEAL SWEETMAN SJ: Extract from Letter to Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) 16 Feb 2004

For the record, I will say a last word about my own motivation. I already mentioned Brother Maurice Kirk who was my Novice Master in the De La Salle Brothers from about September 1966 to November 1967 (I entered outside the normal stream of candidates so the dates are unusual). I also recall with great affection the late Father Michael Sweetman S.J. who gave us an 8 day retreat in early September 1967. He told us a lot about his corresponence with an Irish criminal in England who knew he was destroying himself but could see no way out. However the message Fr. Sweetman was giving us was one of optimism and hope. Even if that man died a criminal he would still not be a failure as a human being. I went to see Fr. Sweetman in Ballymun not long before his death. He spoke of young drug addicts there and said that they were doomed. I had not heard a priest talk in that way before and I was upset by his despair. 

I am not capable of inspiring people or helping them in the way that Brother Maurice and Father Sweetman did, or tried to do. However I am very strong minded (largely thanks to them) and I will defend their legacy in my own way.

(D) Brother Maurice Kirk FSC and Father Michael Sweetman S.J.

This is from an article on the website of Alliance Support (which supported victims of child abuse) dated September 2006

[ Explanatory Note: I was a novice in the De La Salle Brothers in Castletown, Co. Laois, Ireland in the year 1966/1967. It was the peak experience of my life and the main reason why I have been engaged in the fight against false allegations of child abuse directed against Catholic clergy .

My novice master was Brother Maurice Kirk. In August/September 1967 a Jesuit priest Father Michael Sweetman gave us our final Retreat" (spiritual conference) before we were professed as De La Salle Brothers.

I left the Brothers in March 1969. Recently I deposited some material in archives and the following is part of a covering note.

Rory Connor]

As to the wider significance of these events, I was in the [De La Salle] Novitiate in 1966-67 at the time when vocations to the Catholic Church were at their height. This was immediately after Vatican 11 and just before the student revolts of 1968. Brother Maurice was, I suppose, a modernising conservative. Among the main texts we studied were A Map of Life which was a classic from the 1930s and also the Grail Simplified Documents of Vatican 11. I'm sure that Brother Maurice was trying to forge a link between tradition and the modern world. Father Michael Sweetman was something of a "radical priest" so inviting him to preach the Retreat before our profession would have been a daring act.

Obviously Brother Maurice did not succeed. I briefly met with a former fellow novice years later - Brother ..... I think who left like most of us. He told me he thought that Brother Maurice had been an "intellectual bully". Maybe that is true and maybe most leaders have to be. Maybe the increasing secularisation (and increasing viciousness) of society could not be overcome by any means. I think that Father Sweetman felt that at the end of his life - although I did not know him at all as well.

Another historical point. I recently read a review of a book about Pope Pius X11 and the Nazis which was written by a Jewish Rabbi. The Rabbi said that the lies about Pius as "Hitler's Pope" came from 3 separate sources [1]
  • Stalinist propaganda during the Cold War (1940s and 50s)
  • The "New Left" in the 1960s
  • "Liberal" Catholics after the Vatican Council who saw Pius X11 as the hero of "reactionary" Catholics and demonised him as a way of demonising them.
I think that our child abuse hysteria originated in somewhat the same way. Pat Rabbitte and Judge Pat McCartan are former members of the Workers Party that was Stalinist in the most literal sense - party officials went on cosy visits to Kim Il Sung's North Korea. Doctor Moira Woods (who slandered Eddie Hernon) was also a member of this Party. I think that Mary Raftery was a member (though I can't swear to it). Doctor Noel Browne was not in the Workers Party but his hatred of the Catholic Church really took off in the late 1960s. John Horgan mentions in his biography of Browne that a savage article by Browne in the Irish Times in 1970 drew criticism from Father Michael Sweetman [2]! The late 1960s really do seem to be a critical time.

Regarding "liberal" Catholics I know that the National Catholic Reporter in the USA has thrown its full weight behind the child abuse witch-hunt. It even sees nothing wrong with convictions on the basis of "Recovered Memory Syndrome". This is voodoo brain science and is almost unknown in Ireland. The NCR sees the scandal as a useful way of gutting the traditional church and advancing its own "liberal" agenda. - in relation to women priests, gay priests, the laity etc. I don't know if there is an equivalent group in Ireland - I am concentrating my fire on journalists.

Maybe I am exaggerating the importance of my time in the De La Salle Novitiate. But then again maybe not!

Rory Connor
September 2006

[1] The book is "The Myth of Hitler's Pope" by Rabbi David G. Dalin

[2] The date should be 1968 not 1970 which tends to prove my point! In "Noel Browne, Passionate Outsider" John Horgan writes:

" In 1968 [Browne] had written a speech for a meeting in Trinity College which contained a number of harsh criticisms of the Church, but had thought better of it and deleted them from the remarks he eventually delivered. The original speech, however, was published in the Irish Times, and for this he was mildly chastised by another speaker at the meeting, the radical Jesuit Fr Michael Sweetman". [The Irish Times, 6 December 1968].

This seems to be the last time that Noel Browne entertained any doubts about the Catholic Church. After that, it was shrieking denunciation all the way, with the Church being blamed for every evil in Irish society. I think that 1968 was the year our Irish "liberals" started to go crazy!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Richard Webster, The Idea of Evil and Operation Midland

Carl Beech - sentenced to 18 Years for False Allegations of Child Abuse and Homicide

There is a lot in common between the hysterical allegations at the core of the London Metropolitan Police's "Operation Midland" (2014/16) and the similar hysteria on the island of Jersey in 2008. Both included prolonged investigation into the alleged murders of children decades before and in neither case was the identity of the supposed child victims ever established. The Jersey case (involving the former residential institution of Haut de la Garenne), must have been the first in British history where the police launched a homicide investigation in the absence of both a body and the identity of an alleged victim! 

However the Jersey case was not the first such in the British Isles. Beginning about 1996 there were a series of media charges - and resulting Garda investigations - that Irish children had been murdered by the Christian Brothers, Sisters of Mercy or Passionist priests. Many of the allegations related to periods when no child dies of ANY cause - so I coined the phrases "Murder of the Undead" and "Victimless Murders". By 2008 many of these homicide claims had been shown to be nonsense and that aspect of our child abuse witch-hunt seemed to be fading away. In fact I wrote an article in 2006 that (wrongly) assumed the whole lunacy was at an end. An updated version - that includes the original 2006 text - is here: Blood Libel In Ireland - directed against Catholics Not Jews!

Accordingly when the Jersey scandal broke on 23 February 2008 I wrote an online comment to an article in the Times (UK) on 26 February and also emailed Richard Webster with whom I had corresponded regarding his 2005 book "The Secret of Bryn Estyn: The Making of a Modern Witch-Hunt". He agreed with me that the Jersey allegations (featuring the former juvenile detention centre, Haut de la Garenne) were a reprise of the Irish ones and equally nonsensical. For the next 6 months he was very active in debunking the Jersey hysteria using his blog and also his journalist connections (that I sadly lack). The whole lunacy collapsed in late 2008 and the following are two comments that I made to Richard's article dated 16 November 2008 "Something evil had happened . . . I had to go on' - Jersey in the Sunday papers"

I'm pleased to see that I quoted my first comment to The Times article - made just 3 days after the scandal broke - as it's no longer available otherwise. 

Richard Webster died of a heart attack in June 2011 aged just 60. If he were alive today, I believe he would be surprised and distressed that the kind of child abuse hysteria he helped to demolish in 2008, is still very much with us. OR perhaps the demise of "Operation Midland" and the jailing of Carl Beech has at least discredited the homicidal aspects of the Witch-Hunt?

I have an article on my old website (not blog) "In Memory of Richard Webster"

Rory Connor
20 August 2019

These are my two reactions to Richard Websters article dated 16 November 2008

Kilbarry1   21 November 2008 
It was obvious from the beginning that these allegations were based on hysteria. In a comment on a TimesOnLine article dated 26 FEBRUARY ("Beast of Jersey Paedophile...") I wrote the following:

In Ireland between 1999 and 2004 we had a large number of allegations that children had been killed in industrial schools run by the Christian Brothers. These included accusations in a major Sunday Newspaper of mass killing ("a Holocaust") at Letterfrack in Co. Galway. Not a single claim has proved to be correct. This is not surprising as several relate to periods when no child died of ANY cause. (I call these "Murder of the Undead" allegations). **

One body was exhumed and proved to be a death from natural causes but the resulting publicity resulted in dozens of child abuse claims within a couple of weeks against the institution.

The child killing allegations were not made by isolated nutcases but by major newspapers and by leading members of child abuse organisations. They have now ceased but the people responsible have not been called to account.

What is happening in Jersey looks like a repeat of our Irish witch-hunt.

Rory Connor, Dublin, Ireland

Richard feels that the response of the British media to the latest revelations is inadequate. In Ireland the media simply buried the scandal since they were almost 100% responsible for it. At least your UK journalists can cast the blame on Lenny Harper (who is from Derry by the way) and so they are prepared to give LIMITED coverage to the collapse of this witch-hunt. We should be so lucky in my country!

Rory Connor, Dublin 

** I also coined the phrase "Victimless Murders"!

Kilbarry1    21 November 2008 
Further to comment above, while I support (nearly) everything Richard has said and done to combat this witch-hunt, I am a bit uneasy about his treatment of the concept of "Evil". I don't believe that the underlying cause was an unhealthy obsession with evil. In Ireland the cause was definitely anti-clericalism - and specifically hatred of the Catholic Church. The hysteria has now spread to encompass the whole of our society but it started as a hate-filled attack on the Church - with journalists being the main offenders.

I suspect that in Jersey, the cause was Hatred of Authority. One prominent Jersey politician seems to be consumed with loathing of his colleagues. Also Jersey is a small island with a number of rich people who seem to dominate the economy and politics. Nobody is starving but I suspect there are lots of relatively unsuccessful people who are prepared to use any means whatsoever to bring down the local elite.

Many journalists also loathe authority and tradition and are very destructive types. It's not that they are obsessed with evil but that they are prepared to (literally) demonise any person or institution they don't like. When Lenny Harper made a foolish and premature announcement last February about finding "part of a child's skull", these journalists descended on Jersey like a pack of wolves, determined to discover a vile conspiracy of child abusers among the elite. Their behaviour made it very difficult for Mr. Harper to backtrack and he pressed on regardless of the mounting evidence that his original decision was wrong. In my opinion THAT would explain a great deal of what happened in Jersey - and it ties in with our experience in Ireland!

Rory Connor

UPDATE: 22 August 2019

Eight years after the death of Richard Webster, I wonder why I partially disagreed with his article "Something Evil had Happened" - and specifically his use of the concept of "Evil". I corresponded with him on and off for  a few years and I supplied him with the Irish section of his book "The Secret of Bryn Estyn" - about 5 pages out of 600. He published that section online under the title "States of Fear, the Redress Board and Ireland's Folly". I see that in my second comment above I wrote "It's not that [journalists] are obsessed with evil but that they are prepared to (literally) demonise any person or institution they don't like. Is it the case that I was actually agreeing with him while using slightly different language?

Actually we had a theological dis-agreement concerning the role of Christianity and specifically Original Sin!  I wrote about this in a previous article "Satanic Ritual Abuse in Ireland (and the Shortage thereof) vs "Normal" False Allegations". 

"The late cultural historian Richard Webster suggested to me that the reason Ireland had practically no Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) cases was the influence of the Catholic Church and its strong opposition to Freudian ideas. The Church opposed Freudianism because of the implications for Catholic doctrines regarding sin, free will and personal responsibility. Richard Webster was an atheist (NOT of the Dawkins persuasion) but he was also a major critic of Freud and and believed that SRA was a logical development of his ideas.

"Based on what Richard Webster suggested, I developed my own theory that false allegations of child murder in Ireland are our equivalent of SRA - except that in OUR case Freudian delusions are replaced by open lying. (I am thinking in particular of the cases where no child died of ANY cause during the period in question). However I don't know enough about Freud and he didn't know enough about Ireland to prove anything of the sort. It could be a useful subject for a law graduate looking for a doctoral thesis!"

Gordon McKenzie asked me to clarify what Richard meant and I replied:

"I find the theory behind his thesis difficult to understand. I think he is saying that modern society thought it had dispensed with the concepts of Sin, Evil and the Devil but that Freud was a kind of secular Messiah who brought them back in secular form. One of my difficulties with Webster's THEORY is that he emphasizes that Freud re-established the Christian doctrine of Original Sin. However that doctrine states that evil is a basic - although not dominant - element in human nature and that therefore we are all sinful. I would have thought that this doctrine works AGAINST the modern tendency to see child sex abusers as sub-human vermin. Evil is within us and we are not going to eradicate it by transferring our guilt and demonizing any section of humanity no matter how nasty their behaviour."

I have since read more (although not enough) of what Richard wrote on this subject and he had a different take on "Original Sin":

"The dream according to which human irrationality is finally defeated and replaced by the reign of reason has always been at the heart of Christian apocalyptic fantasies. It was Christianity which fostered the view that human irrationality and human viciousness, though part of our ‘fallen’ nature, were not part of our essential spiritual and rational identity. In the eternity of God’s kingdom which was to be established at the end of history, they would be banished for ever. It is religion, in other words, which has encouraged us to believe in an unrealistic version of human nature according to which all human unreason (traditionally personified as ‘the Beast’, the ‘Whore of Babylon’, or ‘Satan’) can be bound for a thousand years (the ‘millennium’) or somehow permanently excised from human nature. ‘Rationalism’ is, in this sense, the greatest of all the irrational delusions which has been promoted by our religious tradition.

"The muddle we have managed to get ourselves into by our failure to recognise this does not only have intellectual consequences, it is also potentially (and, indeed, actually) dangerous...."

Richard believed that the hysteria surrounding allegations of Satanic Abuse, child sexual abuse and rape  stem from this "secularised Christian" view of human nature whereby human irrationality will be finally defeated and excised from our nature. It's a theory that would be very difficult to prove but we do need to discuss what is the basis of these world-wide witch-hunts.  

The reason why I didn't fully agree with Richard's 2008 article "Something Evil Had Happened.." is probably that I was aware of the implications for Christianity of his theory. I have no difficulty in accepting his view that our current witch-hunts are related to those of early modern Europe (16th and 17th centuries). BUT I see the later as an aberration not as something intrinsic to Christianity! 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Mary Raftery and Blood Libel

Mary Raftery - "They were calling me a Nazi, citing blood libel"

The late Mary Raftery has been in the news against recently so I am republishing my correspondence with former Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy in 2005. 

According to an RTE report on 29 April 2019 Dublin City University "launched an exhibition on the award-winning journalism of the late Mary Raftery. The event coincides with the 20th anniversary of the airing by RTÉ television of her three-part documentary series, States of Fear. The broadcasts prompted the then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to issue an unprecedented apology to survivors of institutional child abuse, primarily in Catholic-run industrial schools."

RTE goes on to confirm that the university has also unveiled a new journalism industry award, The Mary Raftery Prize, which will be awarded annually to an individual or small team responsible for journalistic work produced on the island of Ireland which, in the view of the judges, combines the rigorous analysis and commitment to social justice which characterised Mary Raftery's journalism and resulted in a significant impact on society.

This "rigorous analysis" and "commitment to social justice" included a blood libel against the Christian Brothers while her States of Fear series on RTE was a major factor in the false rape convictions of former Sister of Mercy Nora Wall and of a homeless schizophrenic man Pablo McCabe. Ms Raftery had very little to say about Nora Wall following the overturn of the convictions and nothing about Pablo.[Note 1] He was accused in order to make a rape allegation against a nun look more plausible and his abuse by the two accusers and the State, was of no interest to Ms Raftery. (He was the wrong type of victim!). [Note 2]

Once Again - Mary Raftery and Blood Libel 
"They were calling me a Nazi, citing blood libel, a whole stable of them," she continues. "But there's absolute silence from those quarters since the Ryan Report." (Mary Raftery in Sunday Independent on 4 September 2011). Two weeks later I wrote on my website
Actually I am the only person who ever used the term "blood libel" in relation to Mary Raftery and I also commented - with reference to her - that the Nazi pornographer Julius Streicher also used to accuse Jews of murdering Christian children. I have certainly not remained silent since the Ryan Report.[published May 2009] However Mary Raftery is a sacred cow among Irish journalists and feels -with some justification - that they will allow her to get away with any lie!

They still are!

Rory Connor
26 June 2019

[1] For Mary Raftery's grossly inadequate account of the trial of Nora Wall in her book "Suffer the Little Children" see "Mary Raftery and Nora Wall" She leaves out nearly all the relevant facts and makes it sound like an acquittal on a technicality!

[2] The only detailed account of Pablo McCabe's role in this tragedy is Breda O'Brien's article in the Jesuit Review Studies in Winter 2006
Miscarriage of Justice: Paul McCabe and Nora Wall



17 April 2005

Geraldine Kennedy
Editor, Irish Times

Dear Ms. Kennedy,
I am enclosing some articles which I have written concerning Mary Raftery and her accusations of child killing and child abuse directed against the Catholic Church.
In summary:

The Death of Patsy Flanagan
Mary Raftery has accused the Christian Brothers of being responsible for the death of the boy Patsy Flanagan who died following a fall from a staircase in Artane in February 1951. When her "witness" produced three contradictory accounts of the incident (one of which got the date wrong by 5 years), Ms. Raftery tried to square the circle by claiming that a few boys had died in this manner! She produced not a scrap of evidence to support this allegation.

There was an inquest which found the death of Patsy Flanagan to be an accident. Mary Raftery does not mention this in her book. Did she not know about it or did she deliberately conceal this evidence?

Sister Stanislaus and Sister Conception
Mary Raftery has, on several occasions, accused Sister Stanislaus Kennedy of failing to act when she was informed of child abuse in the 1970s in St. Joseph's orphanage, Kilkenny. The social worker who is supposed to have informed her, wrote to the Irish Times to say that he himself was unaware in 1977 that sex abuse was involved and that he only became aware of this in 1995 i.e. nearly 20 years after he is supposed to have informed Sister Stan (Letters page 22 December 1999). This precisely matches what Sister Stan said when Mary Raftery first made her allegation (in the States of Fear series and the book Suffer the Little Children). Yet Ms. Raftery repeats the accusation in her article on 3 March last. She makes a similar accusation against Sister Conception and the late Bishop Birch, in spite of the fact that on 1st March the President of the High Court Mr. Justice Finnegan, specifically exonerated them in his judgment in the case of R. Noctor-v.-Ireland, The Attorney General and Others. (Mary Raftery does not dispute his judgment concerning this issue; she ignores it).

Mary Raftery claimed that Sister Stanislaus had denounced a civil servant on the Kennedy Committee for failing to give credit to the Church for its social work. The three civil servants at the relevant meeting told journalist Breda O'Brien that no such episode had occurred. (One also wrote to the Irish Times to confirm this). This is by no means the most serious allegation made by Mary Raftery. It is important because it can be easily shown to be a lie. And the lie is obviously linked to other tales told by Ms Raftery about Sister Stan and about the Catholic Church.

Brother Joseph O'Connor
A far uglier lie is Mary Raftery's attack on the late Brother Joseph O'Connor who was the Christian Brother responsible for the Artane Boys Band. She claims he was a vicious child abuser. She alleges that a man abused by him was so distraught that he hung around the Mater Hospital for days when Brother O'Connor was dying. He then went into the hospital and lifted the sheet from his body to confirm that Brother O'Connor was dead. BROTHER JOSEPH O'CONNOR DID NOT DIE IN THE MATER HOSPITAL. (The same question arises as with the inquest on Patsy Flanagan - did Mary Raftery not bother to check this extraordinary story or did she conceal evidence?)

I assume that Mary Raftery tells lies about Brother O'Connor for the same reason she tells lies about Sister Stanislaus i.e. they are both well known Catholics and demonising them is a way of getting at the Church.

Nora Wall
Mary Raftery's treatment of the Nora Wall scandal in her book is grossly misleading. She fails to state that Nora Wall's two accusers had made a string of rape allegations against various people. Above all she fails to mention the main reason for the collapse of the trial i.e. a man read an article about the case in The Star newspaper and recognised one of the women as the person who had made a false allegation against himself!

I was told by one of Nora Wall's defense team (Sean Costello of Frank Ward and Co. Solicitors) that she had been convicted because of a climate of hysteria created by the media and SPECIFICALLY BY THE STATES OF FEAR SERIES!

Anti-Semitism and Anti-Clericalism
In his book "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", William Shirer has this to say about Hitler's favourite anti-Semite Julius Streicher:

"A famous fornicator he made his fame and fortune as a blindly fanatical anti-Semite. His notorious weekly Der Stuermer thrived on lurid tales of Jewish sexual crimes and Jewish "ritual murders"; its obscenity was nauseating even to many Nazis".

Ms. Kennedy, if even some Nazis were nauseated by Julius Streicher, what is Mary Raftery doing writing for the Irish Times? Do you believe that anti-clerical hatred is morally superior to the Nazi variety? You will note that they both involve lying allegations of sexual crimes and of child killing.

I intend to distribute this material as widely as possible. If yourself or Mary Raftery feel that any of it is mistaken, please let me know within the next week and I will take your views on board. In the meantime I will send this to the National Union of Journalists only.

Yours sincerely,

Rory Connor 
11 Lohunda Grove 
Dublin 15


(1) Mary Raftery and The Death of Patsy Flanagan - Debate Raftery vs Breda O'Brien -Nov 1999 to Jan 2000

(See also) The Death of Patsy Flanagan: Blood Libel and The Christian Brothers - Debate in Sun Independent Nov/Dec 1999

(5) Mary Raftery and Nora Wall - March 2005


The Irish Times Limited, 10-16 D’Olier Street, Dublin 2 

Telephone: 6758000. Fax: 6719407 


Mr. Rory Connor 
11 Lohunda Grove 
Dublin 15 

April 21st 2005 

Dear Mr. Connor

Thank you for your letter of April 17th and its attachments. 

I note from your letter your accusation not just that Mary Raftery has been mistaken in much that she has written but that she has written as fact things that were untrue and that she knew to be untrue. 

As you are also seeking a response from her, I will pass on a copy of your letter to Ms. Raftery but I will not be responding myself to the points you have made because the allegations are clearly defamatory. 

Yours sincerely, 

Geraldine Kennedy 


29 April 2005 

Geraldine Kennedy 
Irish Times 

Dear Ms Kennedy 
Thanks for your reply dated 21 April which I received on the 26 th. 

I actually sent all of the material to Mary Raftery by registered post on 18 April. I also copied it to the National Union of Journalists as I believe that Ms. Raftery must have breached every article of their Code of Conduct. I have not yet received a reply from her and I am now distributing this material as widely as possible. I understand that the NUJ will only accept a complaint if it comes from another journalist so I am concentrating on journalists. 

Yes I believe that Mary Raftery is not just mistaken but is telling deliberate lies. A blatant example is when her "witness" to the death of Patsy Flanagan tells three contradictory stories (one of which gets the date wrong by 5 years). Instead of withdrawing her allegations Mary Raftery tries to square the circle by claiming that more than one boy died in this way in Artane (i.e. by falling from a staircase)! 

Mary McCarthy once said about the Stalinist Lillian Hellman : "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'." That neatly sums up my attitude to Mary Raftery. 

Yours sincerely,

Rory Connor