When Ivan Payne was having his charge sheet read out to him in court nearly twenty years ago, I was sitting in the gallery looking down. There was the paedophile priest who had sexually abused me in handcuffs in front of the Irish Courts of Law. I watched in a surreal haze. I had smoked a spliff earlier in the morning to help get me through it. I felt OK. It felt like everything had come full circle.
In the aftermath I don’t remember the papers extolling his priestly virtues. I don’t remember the Catholic Church waxing lyrical about his empowering sermons or his inspirational work as a marriage guidance priest. Nobody came to the defence of this man who pleaded guilty to his sins. Aside of course, from those who were legally obliged and paid to do so.
There was no social media frenzy as it didn’t exist then. There were no rogue priests who thought it needed to be said what great qualities he had. He was given fair trial, charged and convicted. To be honest I don’t quite remember what sentence he got. But it was only a few years that he served as a convicted criminal.
I remember thinking it wasn’t enough time. I felt he should have suffered more in prison. I had spent a few years numbing the memory of what happened on all kinds of drink and drugs. Little did I know I would spend the next twelve years falling deeper into self medicating addiction. I would spend years stoned, drunk and off my face running from myself and from who I was. I know some of the others whom he abused and they told a similar story.
This man left a mark that scarred deeply and continues to do so to this day.
I get why some writers have written about this case as they have. I really do. It is very hard to reconcile the fact that you have worked with and known a man who was evil underneath that sheen of brilliance and inspiration you have known. It is nigh on impossible to extricate yourself from the story you have about this person. You feel the need to defend him or point out the great parts of who he was.
I can understand this state – it is called cognitive dissonance. This is when you are confronted with two ideas which contradict each other. The average human will feel immense stress and will avoid making this stress bigger. It happens in group dynamics. It happens for individuals. You avoid and deny the uncomfortable truth to avoid stress.
When I first started writing this piece (I started over three days ago), I began by writing about being a fan of Tom Humphries. This was what I originally wrote:
I remember looking for Tom Humphries nearly ten years ago. I was a fan…a massive fan. I bought the Irish Times every week of a Monday to read his column. He was a genius writer. His was an impeccable talent. He had style, he had substance and he had venom. And he had gone missing.
I didn’t know much about him as a person. I just knew that when he wrote, it was clear and insightful. He took a different slight and managed to see the hidden truths, the deeper meanings and was not afraid to aggressively hunt the story he wanted to write. I had moved back to Australia and wanted to keep up to date with his words. But he had gone missing.
We have since found out that he had gone missing as he was caught “grooming” a 14 year old girl. Grooming sounds so fancy. It evokes Sunday afternoon in Herefordshire, or some other longly worded English County. It sounds like champion dogs eating turtle meat and animal liver. It speaks of shimmering fur and gentle hoighty toighty snickering.
No. Tom had not been grooming, even though that is the word commonly used to describe the act. He was exploiting. He was preying on. He was working out odds. He saw a young, barley teen waif whom he could work his experience on. Yes, Tom Humphries the paedophile knew exactly what he was doing. He was doing good paedophile work. The long haul trips are the ones that work best. And Tom was in this for the long haul.
Paedophiles work best like this. They are deliberate, cold and calculating. They play the long game. One reason they survive in modern society is their secrecy. Once they are exposed as the evil monsters that they are, they are shunned by their own and by the non-paedophiles. But it takes a lot of work to expose them. It takes a lot of work and you come up against layer upon layer of resistance.
Paedophiles are normally wealthy, powerful older males. Now that wealth may be obvious and monetary, or it may be the more subtle distinction: they could be the bread winner of the house. And they are always in positions of trust and seniority. They have the cards stacked in their favour. They can use their status to intimidate, to confuse and to resist.
The children they have abused and affected can be in denial, afraid to come forward, lacking in evidence or may just want to forget and move on with their lives. Coming out about being abused is a scary thing. You risk ridicule. You fear the shame. You are afraid. Who would believe you? What evidence is there? Isn’t it better to just move on? Why risk your word against men with institutional power behind them…be that church, media or otherwise.
Blurring the lines
I remember once upon a time reading a Locker Room (the name of his column) piece written by Humphries. It was a piece extolling the passion and magic of an underage camogie team in North Dublin. I thought it a little unusual at the time. It was a deviation from the norm but I enjoyed the read. I thought it strange that a chief sports writer would dedicate his column to such a niche section of Irish sport.
But there were darker, more subtle forces at work. He was playing the long game.
When I think of it now….
And let us not kid ourselves here…Tom was lucky he was good at writing because he was always going to struggle in life based on his looks. Portly, milk skinned and a face that looked like it had been dragged through the back arse of the 1980’s…a poster boy for gluttony in the recession. It would always be hard work for Tom and the fairer sex.
Any thoughts that teenage girls would be attracted to such a glob of a man would be seriously misdirected. You would be off your goddamned rocker to think a teenager would be attracted to him. Yes, his words would open doors for him.
Columns. Articles. Stories. Text messages…
But that is somewhat beside the point.
The fact is that like most paedophiles, he manoeuvred himself into a position of trust and he used that trust to exploit those most vulnerable. There is nothing new here. Seldom does the narrative of the paedophile stray from this well worn path. Middle aged or old aged men in positions of power exploit children whom have little. This has been going on forever and it will continue to go on.
This conversation needs to change.
The post sentencing reaction
The sad and worrying part of this case for me has been the reaction of certain sectors of the media, as well as the sentencing handed down by the judge.
Some newspapers have written about him in terms still regarding him as something other than the paedophile that he is. To skirt around the uncomfortable truth is better than to face up to the reality. Why not just report the facts. Leave the eulogies and personal sentiment for the lunch time hack mumblings. Sometimes it is too hard to be brave and honest.
And bravery means throwing this man under the bus. It means writing about him in terms which acknowledge that this was no accident, no flash in the pan. It is difficult to write about a former colleague when you knew nothing about his true nature. This paedophile does not deserve balanced consideration. He deserves to be hung, drawn and quartered.
I don’t care if you are James Joyce himself…if you are a paedophile you deserve every single ounce of justice and punishment available. Our society needs to shift its gaze away from one where those who fall from grace are almost seen as victims themselves. Or that that very fall be seen as punishment in itself.
What obtuse and deluded logic that is.
Leniency of the sentencing
How can two and a half years in prison be deemed reasonable for this man? Now I am not a lawyer or a judge, but this seems beyond absurd.
Not only is the sentencing far too short, but the language used by the judge when commenting on his sentence needs to be addressed. She took into account letters of support from Humphries’ family members, including his daughters, and friends when deciding the sentence.
Again I find this bizarre. There are a few things at play here for me. The first is that paedophilia is not a normal crime. It does not come under the same bracket as tax evasion or robbery. It should be treated differently. Like rape and sexual assault against women, there needs to be different rules for how we approach the sentencing.
This idea that referees should be allowed to submit testimony relating to their moral character does not make sense to me. Surely these testimonies highlight the more nefarious and exploitative nature of the paedophile? They were regarded as pillars of their community/a good father/business man etc etc. Sure. Sure they were. That is just lovely. But that is also how they were able to manipulate the child they attacked.
Are judges so blinded by process that they cannot see that?
And if someone wants to come out and give a referral that is fine. It is within the law for now. And it is OK if that is your take on things. But do not expect to be thought well of if you consider a paedophile to be a decent human being. Your name will be dragged along through the dirt and the shite with them.
When I first heard of Donal Og Cusack and David Walsh giving statements recommending the character of Tom Humphries I was frothing at the mouth. I was angry. How could anyone stand behind a monster like this? And then my wife tried to get me to look at it from their point of view.
“Imagine it was someone you knew…say your brother for example…someone you had known for forty years? Imagine they came to you and asked you for help. What would you do?”
My first reaction was that I would say no. But when I thought calmly about it, I realised it would be a difficult decision. How do you turn your back on someone when they stand accused of a crime; if they tell you they are innocent? And I am assuming they thought he was innocent at the time. Because if they knew he was guilty and still came to say good of him, then you see just how convoluted our world is.
The justice system needs to be revised and the sentencing needs to be increased. While it is never a deterrent, something like thirty years to life would at least seem a suitable punishment.
This girl whom he abused has been affected in ways no one can ever truly know.
It will take her years to recover from this and it is impossible to account for how different her life could have been had he not come along. That two and a half years imprisonment is deemed enough punishment is an insult to her and to the thousands of children who are being abused in Ireland right this very day.
View from the future
One of the worst parts about people knowing you were sexually abused is thinking that other people will think less of you. You think they will see you as weak and as a victim. The shame that follows you is overwhelming. It can be so large that it can snuff your will to live. It was a serious consideration for me when I decided to write about it in Dub Sub Confidential.
I had managed to deal with the past and move on. Writing a book and including the abuse would open a whole new world of scrutiny that I was not sure I was ready for. I would have to talk to people about it. I would have to speak to media about it. I would have to bring it up over and over again..
This girl mentioned how the description of her being a victim has hit her hard. In her impact report she said:
Being classed as a victim has led to self doubt, a lack of confidence and hatred towards myself.”
I know that feeling. And that is why I don’t consider myself either a victim or a survivor. I am just me. Initially though, I did. For years I saw myself as a victim and that justified my excess, my addictions and my willingness to throw myself into the depths of intoxication and danger. I did not care what happened to me or to my life. I felt suicidal from time to time. I lived day to day, moment to moment, not giving a flying fuck whether I came out the other side or not.
This girl will be in the height of it now. If I could tell her anything it would be to love yourself and make peace with that young girl who was abused. Accept her as part of who you are and move on. Build a new version of yourself. You could not control the outcome as you were too young. It is OK. Let this become a spring board for helping others.
Change the narrative
We need to change the narrative about how we think about abuse in Ireland. We need to be more open, frank and honest. We need stronger court room action and sentencing that reflects the crime. We need to be decisive and support the children, the women and the men who are suffering. Put yourself in their shoes. Put them first. Put their concerns and their feelings first.
No matter what the occasion. No matter who is the paedophile. No matter what you may really think.