By the time I was four years old Father Ivan Payne, ordained a priest less than twelve months, had already started abusing other young children. When this stark fact was finally established in Court 24 at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last January the sheer awfulness of it astounded me, even though to some extent the fact itself came as no surprise. It occurred to me that there was almost an inevitability that all that was required was for the paths of our lives to cross and once that had happened we would both be effected at some stage in our lives in a manner that would leave both us, and others, devastated. For me the devastation set in shortly after I first knew Father Payne back in 1977. For the priest himself, it seemed to come much later, in the dock of Court 24 last Tuesday afternoon, to be more precise.
Father Payne made a great impression on me back in the late seventies. As a young altar boy, with a strong vocation to the priesthood, serving Mass at Christ the King Church in Cabra, the young priest was like a breath of fresh air in the area. He was very friendly, kind, interested in young people and always greeted me with a broad smile. In those early days his disregard for the black suit and clerical collar, opting instead for bright casual shirts, grey trousers and smart blazers and jackets gave him a distinctive edge the other priests just didn’t have. He was very popular in the area and was thought by many to be very charismatic. Within a short time I came to know another Father Payne. Father Payne the abuser. He introduced me to fear, anxiety, shame, guilt and nervousness and by the time the abuse had ended, almost three years later, these characteristics were as much a part of me as any of my physical attributes. And what’s more, I felt that the fact of having been abused made me so different to school friends and other peers, that this difference in itself was as visible to people as any part of my appearance. I thought that everyone could somehow see that I was not normal, I became paranoid and hated when I became the centre of attention.
Last Tuesday Father Payne was, at last, the centre of attention. As I sat at the back of the courtroom with other people he had abused, I was quite taken aback when Michael McDowell S C, defending, said he had one more witness to call and the still-distinguished-looking priest took his place on the stand. I tried to look up but quickly realised that by doing so it was difficult to avoid making eye contact with the priest so all I could do was look to the ground as he spoke. Up to now I had stolen the occasional glance at him as he sat alone in the corner of the room and it gave me an horrendous feeling of sadness to see the man I had once held in such high regard look so broken. And broken he sounded. Although he didn’t actually break down he came close to it and his voice was shaky and emotional. I have worked hard to try and put my feelings of guilt back where they well and truly belong, but some times it feels like I’ve made no progress at all. Listening to Father Payne speak, my feelings of guilt came flooding back. If I had said nothing he might not be the broken man sitting in court now. For people who have never been abused this is probably very difficult to understand. They say I should not feel guilty; I know I should not feel guilty, even Father Payne told us that on Tuesday; but feelings are not necessarily subject to rational and my heart does not always agree with my head.
I am at a loss to know what to make of his apology. To me he certainly had the appearance of a man full of remorse, but when I first got to know him I soon learned that there was more to this man than his appearance. As I listened to him speak in court, I had no way of assessing whether this was the nice amiable Father Payne sincerely sorry for his actions or the manipulative abuser using all those around him, including us, again, to benefit his own situation. I stress that I am not in any way accusing him of being insincere, but a small part of his dreadful legacy is that he has left me such that I have no way of knowing whether he is or not.
It was disappointing, though maybe understandable, to hear that we have to wait nearly two months to hear Judge Cyril Kelly’s decision following the two days sentence hearing. There was much discussion about the different types of paedophilia, the various types of treatment available and their diverse success rates. I am not looking for revenge in the form of the longest possible sentence. Like others I have presented my case to the appropriate authorities and I now look to those authorities to do the right thing by all concerned. My hope is that when I listen to Judge Kelly deliver his judgement and explain the reasons for it, that I will be able to walk away feeling that justice has been done.