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JOHN COONEY AND JOHN CHARLES McQUAID (3) - View from McQuaid's Turret

VIEW FROM McQUAID'S TURRET, Irish Independent, 6 November 1999

Archbishop John Charles McQuaid is accused in a new book of being a paedophile who preyed on young boys. Jerome Reilly looks at the evidence

It was from the turret which towered above his residence, a 17th century Killiney mansion, that Archbishop John Charles McQuaid looked toward the heavens.

He had the clerical eyrie extended skyward by some 40 feet and a tiny two person lift installed to save wear and tear on the ecclesiastical joints.

The astronomer Frederick O'Connor hand-built a telescope so the Archbishop could view the stars and indulge a scholarly interest in astronomy.

But according to John Cooney's new book, John Charles McQuaid Ruler of Catholic Ireland, the Archbishop used his eye in the sky for more prurient pursuits.

The book alleges he used the powerful lens to spy on courting couples making out on Killiney beach.

They allege that the Machiavellian churchman who effectively ruled the church not only in Dublin, but in Ireland, for 32 years and impacted on the affairs of State in a most profound way, was also a Peeping Tom in a cassock.

A visit this week to the turret above Archbishop McQuaid's former home in Killiney soon cast serious doubts on this claim.

The only part of the beach visible from the high tower, even at low tide, is a tiny patch of rough gravel and sand usually covered by water. The chances of the Archbishop ever spying a ``From Here to Eternity'' style romp in the icy waves of the Irish Sea were effectively nil.

These allegations of voyeurism were used to substantiate far more sinister allegations contained in Cooney's book and carried last week in the Sunday Times, which claimed the Archbishop was a homosexual who preyed on children. However, another allegation that the Archbishop also used the telescope to spy on schoolgirls at a nearby convent was physically possible and when we visited the turret this week we could see children playing in the school grounds.

Yet this appears to contradict the central allegation made last Sunday that the Archbishop was a homosexual with a penchant for young boys.

That central allegation of paedophilia, inappropriate behaviour towards children and an unhealthy and unsavoury interest in sex is based in part on a manuscript by the late Noel Browne.

The former Minister of Health, who had good reason to regard McQuaid as a bitter foe as the Archbishop had wrecked his political career over the ill-fated Mother and Child scheme, penned a short story or essay which was included in his private papers.

The principal character was a high ranking ``revered, respected and feared'' cleric, called ``John the Bishop'' who had ``long and wandering fingers''.

Browne is said to have used information supplied to him 10 years ago by a retired school inspector as the basis of his story.

The school inspector told the former Minister of an alleged attempted molestation by the Archbishop on a publican's son in the living quarters of a pub in the Drumcondra area almost 50 years ago, possibly after a match in Croke Park where the Archbishop was said to be drinking whiskey.

So at the very least Dr Browne was working on second hand information.

Maybe that is why he chose to couch the allegations in a work of satire, even if he was convinced they had been made to him in good faith and were authentic. We'll never know as Dr Browne is deceased.

Nor will we know why there wasn't a single allusion to such conduct by Archbishop McQuaid in Dr Browne's autobiography Against The Wind which spared no-one in its trenchant, and it might be argued, justifiably bitter commentary on the central figures in Irish life over a 50 year period.

According to his widow Phyllis speaking on radio this week, Dr Browne never intended his essay to enter the public domain though she remains convinced of its veracity because of her husband's ``detailed cross examination'' of the school inspector.

Browne was rightly concerned that such a sordid and damning assertion would leave him open to accusations of wrecking the reputation of an enemy who wasn't around to defend himself. Dr McQuaid died in 1973, five years before the school inspector met Dr Browne at a funeral.

John Cooney was given a copy of the controversial essay by Dr Browne's widow when he approached her following her husband's death.

John Cooney's book will state that Browne was convinced that the story related by the school inspector pointed towards the Archbishop being a paranoid schizophrenic as well as an abuser. Yet this seems implausible.

Autocratic, dictatorial, secretive, and some might argue malevolent towards his enemies the Archbishop may have been, but seriously mentally disturbed?

The allegation relating to the Drumcondra pub has been challenged this week by Fr John Fitzpatrick the secretary of Archbishop McQuaid, for the last nine years of his life. He said that Archbishop McQuaid never visited a pub on any occasion and never drank whiskey. He added that staff closely linked with the Archbishop from the 50s onwards similarly did not remember the Archbishop ever going to a pub.

Before the Sunday Times front page story was published, in advance of serialisation of John Cooney's book, the newspaper contacted the Dublin Diocesan Archive.

They wanted old photographs of Archbishop McQuaid, they said, to accompany a story they were running. They particularly wanted a photograph of Archbishop McQuaid administering confirmation on young boys and girls to illustrate their story.

Nevertheless the request set alarm bells ringing in the Dublin Diocesan Press Office who have known for some considerable time that these allegations were to be contained in John Cooney's work.

In fact internally the church had carried out their own detailed investigation into these rumours on the basis, that if there was any ``dirt'' on the cleric they had better find out about it in advance of the new book.

There was an exhaustive search of all archives and records to see if any official complaint had ever been made in relation to Archbishop McQuaid. The search turned up nothing. In fact in April 1998 the Archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Connell took the step of releasing some 700 boxes of Dr McQuaid's papers to historians. The current Archbishop was praised for relaxing the usual 30 year rule by releasing the records five years early, around the 25th anniversary of McQuaid's death, though there were suggestions at the time that this was an attempt by the hierarchy to beat John Cooney to the punch.

The papers which appeared to historians to be very complete, with no apparent ``weeding'' of sensitive private letters, notes and other correspondence do not show the Archbishop in a particularly good light. There again, neither is there anything to suggest aberrant sexual behaviour.

In fact one particularly snide response made by the Archbishop in 1955 showed a rigid and unchristian view of homosexuality.

Dr McQuaid had turned down an invitation to a performance of the Pageant of St Patrick in Croke Park, produced by Hilton Edwards and Micheal MacLiammoir, Dublin's most celebrated gay couple.

Archbishop McQuaid at the top of the letter instructs his secretary to reply expressing his thanks but regretting inability to attend.

A second handwritten note at the bottom of the page gives an insight into his reasons for snubbing the event.
``Andrew McMaster, a Protestant, is St Patrick, directed by Hilton Edwards and Micheal MacLiammoir Sufficit,'' Archbishop McQuaid scrawled. Roughly, the Latin word ``Sufficit'' translates as ``enough said''.

This week the Dublin Archdiocese Communications Office responded to the claims. They said that Dr McQuaid's role in history must be evaluated by proper historical research.

``As with anyone else, the judgement of history will no doubt find things of which to be critical as well as things that should be praised. But like anyone else he is entitled to fairness, and that is all that we would ask for.

``We believe that, like any other citizen of the State, Dr McQuaid is entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty and not the other way around. Just as for anybody else, a reasonable standard of proof must apply to accusations against him.

Proof of a convincing, definitive or substantial nature has not been set forth by Mr Cooney in radio interviews or reported in the Sunday Times.'' the Communications Office concluded. Ultimately, the main problem with the allegations about McQuaid is why have they only surfaced now 26 years after his death?

There have been hundreds of horrific instances of child sexual abuse by clerics and dozens of court cases, both criminal and civil, relating to sexual abuse carried out by churchmen.

If there were any substantive claims relating to the most notorious Irish churchman of the century, surely they would have been made before now.

McQuaid was Dean of Studies at Blackrock College from 1925 to 1930 and President of the College for a further seven years until 1937.

During that 12 year period he would have been in close daily contact with literally thousands of young boys who passed through the gates of the college during that time.

As far as we know, not a single official complaint was ever made at the time, nor since the issue of clerical sexual abuse exploded into the national consciousness in the last decade.

The essence of the allegations appear so far to be based on the evidence of two deceased people, one of them being Dr Browne who wrote an essay, which he never attempted to have published, based on second hand information from an unknown school inspector.

The other deceased source was the late Mrs Mercy Simms, a woman who had helped the late Archbishop establish a school and who, in an interview with Mr Cooney, said she felt that Archbishop McQuaid had an unhealthy attitude towards boys.

The other sources are two so far unidentified individuals. One said the Archbishop took an ``unhealthy interest in him'' when he was a boy.

The other remembers feeling uncomfortable when the Archbishop put his hand on his knee during a discussion on sexual matters. Neither, it seems, say they were abused.

The ``facts'' used so far to substantiate an extraordinary allegation simply don't stack up.

MY OWN COMMENT: An astronomical telescope is designed to view stars that are millions of miles away. Can you focus it on courting couples on a beach?

Rory Connor