on 28 November 2012
As has been well documented by now, "Kathy's Story/Don't Ever Tell" was an elaborate hoax. The whole unsavoury case tells us a lot about the culture of lies, deceit and false accusations targeting the Catholic Church since 2002. The book became a best-seller in Ireland and Britain. Yes, incredibly, 400,000 people were conned. In reality, they are but a tiny fraction of the millions who have been duped over the last decade.
Kathy O'Beirne claims she spent years as a slave to sadistic nuns in the Magdalene laundries (institutions run by the Catholic church to house young women and unmarried mothers), how she was raped there by two priests, gave birth at the age of 13, and how she had her hand thrust into boiling fat by her alcoholic father.
It came as little surprise when family, friends, official records and respected journalist Hermann Kelly (author of "Kathy's Real Story") revealed that this deeply disturbed former psychiatric patient, who has a criminal record for dishonesty, made it all up.
The daughter she claims she bore at the age of 13 did not exist. And a priest who allegedly raped and beat her suffered from such severe arthritis he could not even shake hands. Moreover, she tried to bribe a friend (Margaret Power) to be a "witness" to that rape. According to official records and eyewitness statements, she was never even in a Magdalene laundry. Nonetheless, she threatened to have those who challenge her account "dealt with."
A planned sequel to the book was unceremoniously dumped by publisher Hodder Headline in 2009.
Of course, lurid tales of child abuse and misery sell books and newspapers. False accusations can yield significant financial gain, and seldom receive or even require corroboration. In the last 3 years alone 173 false accusations have been lodged against Catholic priests in the US. In that time there have been approximately 21 accusations involving a current minor that were even deemed "credible." That is a far lower figure than is the case in other religions. The three companies that insure the majority of Protestant churches in America state that they typically receive upward of 260 reports each year of young people under 18 being sexually abused by clergy, church staff, volunteers or congregation members.
Yet those numbers are dwarfed by the abuse taking place in public schools in the US and other countries, and in society at large (stepfathers, uncles, scout leaders, coaches, teachers, and so on). The author of a 2004 report commissioned by the US Department of Education, Hofstra University's Charol Shakeshaft, said, "The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests." Meanwhile, according to government numbers, in 2010 alone, there were some 63,527 reported cases of child sexual abuse in the United States.
So how was Kathy O'Beirne able to con so many people? Because, although child sexual abuse is a societal problem, as Professor Philip Jenkins has pointed out, our tendency as a society is to seek simplistic answers for complex social problems. Couple that with a media that today seeks to form public opinion rather than inform the public, and you can see why O'Beirne's fabrication would meet a receptive audience, all too ready to embrace yet another "victim" of a big, bad institution. None of which should diminish our concern for genuine victims of abuse, who are done a disservice by false accusations like O'Beirne's.
Although the Catholic Church has put its house in order (most of its abuse cases were from the mid 1960s to early 1980s), other institutions have not. Until they do, we are likely to see more "misery literature" - hopefully based on fact, not fiction.
PS I am happy to provide references for the above quotes and statistics, all of which are publicly available.