29 May

This subject has been on my mind for a considerable amount of time since I have a friend who has published a novel on the whole business of pedophilia and cover up in the Roman Catholic Church. Over the last decade, I have been a receptive witness to his struggles with the book, publishers et al.

I come from a certain point of view on the subject. I went to an Irish Catholic prep school (a boarding school for boys aged between 8 and 13) and took my turn as an altar boy at Mass and Benediction. I knew my catechism and Latin responses by heart. It was a sheltered and innocent place. I at the age of 10 was unaware of any sexual currents stirring. If any of us dared to use a forbidden word like “fuck’, the others would glance up at the sky, expecting instant retribution in the form of a lightning bolt.

One day we were milling about on the playing field about to start a game of rugby. The P.E. teacher in charge of sports had a volunteer referee to help him as there were to be two games going on at the same time. The volunteer was an alumnus of the school and familiar to us all. His name was Andrew. A group of us were standing in a huddle by the goalposts, trying to warm up. Andrew was standing on his own, hands on hips, some yards off. One of the boys giggled and nudged me. I turned to look as did the others. The snickering spread amongst us as we could see that Andrew was in an awkward situation. His rugby shorts did nothing to conceal the fact that he was sporting a large erection as blatant as the bowsprit of a sailing ship.

Andrew’s face was red and sweaty with embarrassment. He turned his face to us and gave us a sickly grin. The giggles spread. There was nothing he could do. If he crouched down to conceal it, the laughter would have been immense. Here is the thing. I do not believe it occurred to even one of us that we might have been the cause of his unfortunate display. We were at an age where we did not understand our own erections. They came from some unfocussed stirrings. A trigger for me was thinking of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle in some lurid comic book. But we were still some way from puberty.

So, as I said, we might have laughed about the incident after in the changing room. But we never made the connection. Andrew continued to show up at weekends and help out with the games. One half holiday, he asked me if I would care for a ride on the back of his motorbike. We took a spin up to Powerscourt, an estate that was not far off. Nothing happened. We looked at the view. He told me some of the history of the building. He finished his cigarette and we rode back to the school. And that was that.

Obviously, in retrospeect, my understanding of things changed. But it was not something I thought of much until my friend’s novel IN GOD’S HOUSE came out last year and brought such matters to the forefront of my mind again. But the last beat in the tale happened a little while back, just reached out of the past.

I got emailed by an alumnus of my prep school who had taken on the task of correcting the records of the alumni directory. He asked his correspondents to go through the attached files and correct or supplement the information. I did what I could. And then I hunted for Andrew, wanting to know what had happened to him. I found him. He was now Brother Ambrose teaching and living in a Catholic boarding school.

That rugby game was over half a century ago. There is nothing to be done. But I can’t help but wonder what may have happened over these last 50 years.

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