“Come down from the altar, not with words, but with manifest humility”

A personal response to Blackstaff’s recent post: ‘So Young: The take of my life by the Catholic Church’ by Gerard Gorman

“Ghostwriting” is an inadequate and clumsy term to describe the process involved in the “making” of this book. “So Young – The Rapture of My Life by the Catholic Church” was written by Gerard Gorman through the compassion of his younger brother, poet, playwright and filmmaker, Damian.

Damian’s commitment to writing ‘So Young’ is a life-giving act of brotherly love for the sixty-something man Gerard Gorman is now, love for the 12-year-old boy that Gerard had locked inside his “adult form” for so long.

I can imagine the Gormans crying, raging and crying together again as Gerard, supported by Damian’s soft touch and artistic precision with his words, enjoyed with his soul the details of his life story and sexual abuse. so ruthlessly and carelessly inflicted upon him by Malachy Finegan during Gerard’s first and only year at St Colman’s College, Newry 1970-71.

These traumatic details, hidden in plain sight for so many years, undermined Gerard’s ability to be fully present and comfortable within himself.

Earlier this year, Gerard underwent life-saving quadruple heart bypass surgery. In his postscript to his book, he remarks, “I know in my bones that just as something can ‘do your heart good,’ what Malachy Finegan and his friends in the Catholic Church did to me. hurt my heart.” As an internationally renowned trauma therapist, Bessel Van Der Kolk writes in his masterful book: “The body keeps the score”.

Gerard Gorman with his brother Damian.

Neither Gerard nor Damian fear home truths either. As readers, we witness the addictions and rages of Gérard’s dad. In one incident, he attacks Gerard with a hot iron when he comes across his eldest son having fun with his younger siblings by spitting on the iron to trigger this animated whistle.

Without flinching, Gerard recounts family pain and traumatic incidents – “Mom was trying to say what she had to say, often through tears. Then there would be punches and slaps. We would run to mum to try to protect her, but we would be knocked out of the way…..”

It is clear that Gerard was indeed a vulnerable young boy who was already seeking refuge before he fell prey to Finegan in St Colman.

While Gerard recounts in detail the abuse he suffered, his words are not sensationalized. The facts of the abuse are presented in crisp, clear prose and are all the darker for it. The power of the aggressor Finegan seems absolute to the 12-year-old: “The next time I saw Finegan, he ran off down the hall, untouchable. I’ve never seen him walk down the hall any other way.

My own blood pressure rose reading Gerard’s words and crucial practical and moral questions escaped me alongside my tears: How (Father – whose? Such a horrible misnomer…?) -old boy? How did Finegan get away with this? Who knew Finegan? Who said his funeral mass? Who paid for the erection of this Celtic cross on Finegan’s grave which turned out to be only a few yards from the resting place of Gerard’s beloved mother?

“So Young” is about much more than the sickening details of repeated acts of abuse during Gerard’s year at St Colman’s. This book also deals with the sickening obstructive response of the Catholic Church, locally and nationally, once Gerard, then 50, began to find his voice with all the stress, pain, emotional vulnerability that this process entailed – “I continue had a small hope remaining that they (the Catholic Church) were about what they said they were – caring for people, especially the sheep of their flock. Yet, I I can honestly say that in the five long years of my legal process, they never gave anything they didn’t have to do. Not a thing; not once.” Alongside family, counselors and lawyers who all believed in him, what helped Gérard to carry on was finally listening to that inner voice of himself at 12: “Keep going, Gérard… Don’t tell me. don’t give up.”

Among the saddest pages of “So Young” are those where Gerard includes heartbreaking and angry “impact statements of abuse” from his wife Deirdre, daughter Ursula, and sons Gerard and Diarmaid.

All the more reason to rejoice in the places of sanctuary that Gerard found himself at various times during his troubled and traumatized years, for example: the ease and craic in the Smart family living room, his trips with friends to see Celtic , his GAA family at Redmond O’Hanlon, his advisors at Nexus NI and Towards Healing in Dublin.

I now feel that through his book, “So Young – The Taking of My Life by the Catholic Church”, Gérard has created another sanctuary, the one forged by sharing his truth, the one where his 12-year-old son finally had his say. .

And from this secular holy of holies he speaks directly to the Catholic Church: “Come down from the altar, not with words, but with manifest humility. Tell us, in short, that you don’t know what to do; that you are the last people to know what to do, having been the source of the problem. Is such a remote transfer of power possible? I choose to believe that all or most things are’

Perhaps, as the late Seamus Heaney wrote, “Anything can happen.”

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