In August 2003, Irish Independent journalist Catherine Murphy did a profile of Florence Horsman Hogan,the nurse who set up the organisation Let Our Voices Emerge (L.O.V.E.) to defend people - especially religious - who had been falsely accused of child abuse.
For over a year, Florence Horsman Hogan has been speaking out in defence of the Sister of Mercy nuns in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway who reared her between the ages of six weeks and five years. On a broader level, she is speaking out in defence of carers in the clergy who she says are being tarred with the same brush as abusers and against people who she says are putting forward false abuse claims in the hope of making money.
A fiesty, vocal woman, Florence was previously involved in the Campaign for Irish Prisoners Overseas and A Nurse for Daniel, the charity set up to fund home care for terminally ill children following the highlighted case of Daniel Harbison. Now she wants to set up a group called Let Our Voices Emerge (LOVE) in the hope that people with positive experiences of industrial schools will come forward and tell their stories.
From Eyrecourt in Co. Galway, Florence was born to a 48-year-old mother, a Schizophrenia sufferer who sang in the streets, danced in church and shouted abuse at imaginary assailants. Relatives say she adored her young daughter but could not relate to her. Florence nicknamed her father the 'fiery fox' for his bad temper. An alcoholic with low self esteem and a big ego, he would 'fight with his own shadow' and become abusive when drunk.
Although both parents came from land-owning families, they were poverty-stricken and baby Florence struggled to survive solely on bottles of tea. At the age of six weeks, she was rushed to hospital suffering from malnutrition and upon recovering, was brought to the Convent of Mercy in Ballinasloe to be cared for by the nuns.
Now aged 40 and with four children of her own, she equates her formative years at the orphanage with self-respect and confidence and later years with her parents with shame and embarrassment. "I was a young child at the time but my over-riding memory of the orphanage was of warmth and affection, of getting into fights with other children, going for walks and being taken out of my cot into the beds of bigger children if I was upset at night.
"We got into lots of mischief but I don't remember being slapped. I certainly wasn't whipped and tied to the mast. If you did something wrong, you went to bed early, missed your treats and were given a long lecture by Sr John, the nun who ran the place. "She always told us we were as good as anyone else and to hold our heads high and keep our shoulders up if the village kids hurled abuse or stones at us.
"The nuns did all the work, cleaning laundry until their hands were weeping, sore and chaffed. They had fifty children to care for, including a number of babies, and when the state grants didn't come through, they would ask their own families and friends for money to see the orphanage through. "I often go to charity balls now and everyone's dressed up in their gowns and paying €300 or €400 for a ticket. A week later, you look for your photo in VIP or Image magazine. And while I think people on the charity circuit do great work, I often think that the nuns should be there in diamonds and gowns being rewarded for the hard work they did. But the way of nuns is to hold their peace and accept things as they are.
"I was happy and content for those five years but then the orphanage closed down due to lack of state funding. I felt fear and terror at being taken away from the nuns and returned to my parents, a strange, smelly woman living in a world of her own and a crying man. For days I didn't speak at all except to call out for Sr John. The psychological abuse, neglect and starvation I suffered were while living with my parents."
An aunt subsequently paid for Florence to go to boarding school, which gave her a fresh chance at a good life. She now works as a casualty nurse in Temple Street hospital. 'It is important that abuse cases are brought out," she says. "There are things which need to be redressed and stories that need to be told. It is a cathartic exercise from which Ireland will become a better place. The church has covered up but all institutions cover up, including the government, hospitals and schools. We should recognise that there are a few abusers and many carers and should blame individual abusers rather than the church.
"I also believe that since the Laffoy [later Ryan] Commission was set up, some people are putting in false abuse claims in the hope of making money. None of us can judge what other people are living through but they should examine their consciences before making a false claim that could jeopardise genuine claims."
Christian Brothers' Statement re False Allegations
For some time, Let Our Voices Emerge were able to get journalists to highlight cases where people had been falsley accused. They also encouraged the religious themselves to speak out more forcefully. On 26 October 2003 the Christian Brothers issues a statement in which they denied that sexual abuse was widespread in its residential institutions.
In the statement issued at lunchtime on 26 October, the Christian Brothers said they did "not accept the now widespread perception that there was widespread, systematic sexual abuse" in their residences. While they had "openly acknowledged that some abuse did take place", the vast majority of those brothers and former brothers against whom allegations have been made "strenuously refute the allegations and strongly protest their innocence". The statement said it was worth noting that "over 95 per cent of these men worked in ordinary day schools for up to 40 years without any allegation or hint of complaint against them. "It should also be noted that many complainants name people who do not correspond with any person who worked with the residential institutions or who had been a member of the Christian Brothers."
Brother Edmund Garvey of the Christian Brothers Communications Office said the Order had made the statement after being approached by LOVE. He said that "a very small number were prosecuted" out of the significant number of files that had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions on alleged sexual abuse. But where Brothers were ultimately innocent of charges against them, the current climate prevented them from publicly proclaiming their innocence for fear of offending someone else, he added. The last thing the Order wanted to do was offend anyone who had suffered sexual abuse, he said.
Groups representing alleged abuse victims reacted angrily to the statement. The One in Four organisation described it as a "return to the blanket denial which characterised the Christian Brothers approach to the issue of sexual abuse prior to 1999". Its clinical director Therese Gaynor said the content and tone of the statement would cause further deep hurt to those who suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse in institutions and day schools run by the Brothers. The founder of One-in-Four Colm O'Gorman said it was "a phenomenon surrounding sex and child abuse" that people do not want it to be so. "The reality is that false allegations are incredibly rare." [Mr. O'Gorman is currently the Executive Director of Amnesty International in Ireland.]
Christine Buckley, who set up Aislinn said LOVE sought to downplay the "reign of terror" at places such as Goldenbridge. She claimed its members were "gloating" about their good childhood experiences while thousands of others had suffered. She said it was "extremely sad" that the Christian Brothers had "decided to retract" an apology they had made to abuse victims. "It clearly shows that they have no comprehension of the damage that was caused."
Let Our Voices Emerge backed the Brothers statement and Florence Horsman Hogan stated there was mounting anecdotal evidence that a large number of claims by alleged victims for compensation were fraudulent.
Turn of the Tide?
Around this time several journalists - including Patsy McGarry, religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Times started to write articles about false allegations and giving sympathetic publicity to religious who had been the victims of same. A notable article was "Reviving a Witch-Hunt for Our Times" on 18 October 2003 in which McGarry invoked Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and compared current hysteria about child abuse to the Salem Witch-hunt of 1690. He concluded:
And we should support the Christian Brothers in their legal efforts to ensure that due process is adhered to where the good name of their elderly, infirm, and deceased brethern is concerned. For why should any good person's name or memory be willy-nilly traduced by falsity to satisfy the bloodlust of a vengeance that is walking Salem?
In an article on 5 November 2003 "Avoid Scapegoating the Brothers", McGarry quotes symapthetically from their statement, notes that it was instigated by LOVE and goes on;"That some brothers or former brothers are not being treated fairly is now beyond doubt, as allegations in so many cases collapse before Garda investigation only to be resurrected again before the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board."
It was to prove a false dawn. In May 2004 the Sisters of Mercy unexpectedly made what was called their "second" (actually fourth) apology to their accusers. There was no obvious motive for this exercise in self-degradation but the apology was greeted with delight by leaders of "victims" groups - notably Christine Buckley. Shortly afterwards these leaders resumed their attacks on the the very Merciful Sisters. It is argueable that this apology - and the appointment of Diarmuid Martin as Archbishop of Dublin, the previous month - marked the end of any serious effort by the Catholic Church to defend itself against false allegations of child abuse. Patsy McGarry resumed his attacks on the Church and made no further references to Salem-style witch-hunts.
"Kathy's Story" and Kathy O'Beirne
L.O.V.E. ultimately failed to halt the torrent of false allegations against the religious congregations because the latter either failed to defend themselves properly or - in the case of the Sisters of Mercy - actively sabotaged their own cause by apologising to false accusers. (It seems the Sisters feel that vile allegations are an indication that accusers are suffering deep pain and that apologies serve to heal said pain!) However Florence - and Hermann Kelly - did manage to discredit one prominent victim Kathy O'Beirne who wrote a best-selling book "Kathy's Story" in 2005 that claimed she had been abused and raped in two Magdalene Laundries. In 2009 they managed to prevent the publication of a follow up to Ms O'Beirne's initial bestseller by publicising some of the book's obvious falsehoods in the media and by bringing them to the attention of the publisher. (In 2007 Hermann Kelly published the book "Kathy's Real Story" that demolished her claims.) Part of the reason for their success is that Ms. O'Beirne operated by herself, not joining any of the dozen or so "victims'" organisations and indeed antagonising other alleged victims. She also made the mistake of targetting the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity who referred her claims to the Minister for Justice and requested a Garda investigation. (If Ms O'Beirne had targetted the Sisters of Mercy, they would probably have attempted to heal her pain!)
Florence Horsman-Hogan has a Blog "Kathy's Story" Scam that deals with the controversy regarding Kathy O'Beirne.
End of an Era - Sister John Scully R.I.P
On 10 May 2009 the Sunday Independent published a tribute, by Florence Horsman-Hogan, to Sister John Scully the Sister of Mercy who had taken care of her while Florence was a child in St Joseph's Industrial School in Ballinasloe. Sister John had died on 1st May 2009 aged 92. A lifetime of service to others had earned her five awards - including a Commendation for Bravery signed by Winston Churchill in 1940. She was one of the last nuns who worked in the industrial schools in Ireland and it was indeed the end of an era. (For a glimpse of what followed see the section of this website on "Child Care Today - without the Church" ).
8 May 2011