Resisting the Power of Mea Culpa

A Story of Twentieth-Century Ireland

by Gerard Rodgers (Author)
©2019 Monographs XXXII, 300 Pages


This is both a memoir of childhood trauma and a searing work of social criticism. Through his own experience of clerical abuse and his struggle with the system that allowed it to happen, the author documents an important period of social change in Ireland. The aim of the study is to situate tough personal experiences in lifeworld contexts for the purpose of changing powerful beliefs and practices.
The author contends that psychological disciplines seldom interface with regional histories in a convincing way. The book is critical of dominant ideologies which reinforce acquiescence and exaggerate the power to act in the face of multilevel disempowerment. The author also maintains that old ways of knowing are still replicated in the structure of dominant psychological frameworks. A constancy principle of micro-regulation engenders mindful quietude and/or robust notions of psychological invulnerability. This truncated worldview comes at too high a cost.
The book will be of interest to historians, social commentators, psychologists and critical theorists, as well as those in the field of trauma, addiction and psychiatry.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Contents
  • Foreword by Prof. Martin Milton Regents University London
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Part I: A Multivalent Spotlight on Ireland’s History
  • Chapter 1: The Context of Early Childhood
  • Chapter 2: A Summarized History that Shaped Irish Values from the Mid-Nineteenth Century to the Present
  • Chapter 3: The House of Fear
  • Chapter 4: Recruiting Junior Vocations in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise
  • Chapter 5: The Special Historic Relationship of the De La Salle Order and the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise
  • Chapter 6: Child Sexual Abuse in 1977/1978 Catholic Ireland
  • Chapter 7: Entering the De La Salle Junior Novitiate in Castletown, Portlaoise in 1978
  • Chapter 8: The Pope’s Visit to Ireland in 1979 and After
  • Chapter 9: Secondary School in St Mel’s College, Longford, 1979–1984
  • Chapter 10: Legal/Social Discrimination Against Gay Persons in Ireland
  • Chapter 11: Further Key Themes in 1970s/1980s Ireland
  • Chapter 12: Self-Injury and Active Suicidal Intent
  • Chapter 13: Reconfiguring Guilt/Shame in 1990s Ireland: Struggles for Social Freedom/Equality
  • Part II: Enlightening Our Potential: Looking Back to Move Forward
  • Chapter 14: The Journey of Personal Recovery in a Changing Ireland
  • Chapter 15: The Challenges of Confronting Childhood Sexual Abuse in Adulthood
  • Chapter 16: Further Backdrop to the High Court Action in 2012
  • Chapter 17: The Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise
  • Chapter 18: The Dublin Archdiocese and the Early History of De La Salle Brothers
  • Chapter 19: The De La Salle Order in Dublin under Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and After
  • Chapter 20: Recent Developments for the De La Salle Order and Revelations of Concealed Historic Abuses
  • Chapter 21: The De La Salle Order and Other Catholic Religious Orders: Global Investment Strategies
  • Chapter 22: The Current Role of the Dublin Archdiocese
  • Chapter 23: The State’s Role in Education: Systemic Failures in Protecting Children
  • Chapter 24: Foregrounding of Charitable/Religious Patronage in Mental Health: A Critique
  • Conclusion
  • Epigraph
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix: De La Salle Brothers Australia: Alan’s Story
  • Index

← xii | xiii →


For too long academia has studied issues independent of physical, discursive and historical context. While there may have been (and on occasion still are) advantages to such a narrow focus, this often leaves constituencies misunderstood, wrongly blamed and poorly supported. At best we have been negligent in leaving toxic and traumatic events in the shadows, at worst our facilitation and complicity is evident.

There is a need in the sciences, and in scholarship more generally, to recognize the multi-faceted nature of experience and the fact that, more often than not, it is only through an inter-disciplinary approach that we can gain a clearer understanding of experience. And within this, I am including the importance of exploring and learning from subjective experience. And that’s not easy. There are limits to what individuals or even disciplines can think. We are hostage to history, to convention and to vested interests. And now in Ireland, where history is being relegated to a ‘non-mandatory’ status in curricula, we see the forgoing of learning through experience, rejecting methods of being accountable, open and transparent regarding how we have treated people and communities. This is what Rodgers rightly recognizes as ‘a master-stroke of how power works, where working through the past is viewed as an ideological irritant’ rather than it being a process of joining the dots to hold power to account and to learn for the wider good. Also, making reflection and learning from the past a mere option feeds the view that all we have to do is ignore trauma and it will go away without us having to feel unsettled or upsetting the status quo. But as history has shown us, this is not the way things work personally or culturally.

Rather than travelling in this direction, we need to be exploring further how we can expand our horizons rather than sitting in our silos. Psychology, psychotherapy, theology, sociology, and political science all claim, at times, to understand a phenomenon and offer ways forward, yet the reality is often that these can only be partial insights, skeleton strategies of change – especially when taking an ahistorical perspective to their disciplines. ← xiii | xiv → Our systems do not like us to admit these limitations though – you might not get the grant, the book sales, or promotion if you dilute the ‘brand’. For all of our talk and bluster, the human science disciplines so frequently under-deliver in terms of interdisciplinary work.

There is, of course, some diversity of literature drawn upon and produced in the human sciences. We have a spectrum with biographical and ethnographical approaches on one end and the objective analysis of ‘truly’ independent variables on the other. While both of these two approaches are somewhat helpful, a need for skilful integration of the objective and the subjective remains. The challenge is to move beyond this split and explore the analysis of life as it is experienced – by individuals and by communities. And limiting our work to one of the positions on the spectrum can mean it suffers. There are scholars who try to integrate these perspectives but only occasionally is it as stupendously well done, as in this book. The rigour and skill evident in these pages is reward itself for engaging with complex, powerful and dangerous factors that affect many people’s lives.

It is rare that an academic, scholarly book gives the reader cold shivers and goosebumps and moves you to tears – but this book does. The account of how children were subject to institutional abuse – condoned, facilitated and overlooked by both Church and state – cannot fail to move the reader. The impact this has on siblings, parents and wider families is important to recognize too. This book doesn’t just assert what we know happened (and is still happening), but helps us understand the power relationships and processes that facilitate this longstanding dynamic.

The subject material and the personal style does make this a taxing book to read (and probably to have written), but maybe that is as it should be, considering the seriousness of what needs to be confronted. To consider these experiences one is exposed to traumatic imagery and may need to read passages over and over – so as to understand the complexity, the multiple levels of involvement and implication for psychological and social health, for political and religious policy and for ways of overcoming this long-term process that has damaged so many lives. But it is important that we do.

Mea Culpa is a brave and impressive contribution to the field. It is going to help us understand gay men’s experiences of life in Ireland – and those they are close to; it offers insight into the social and religious attitudes ← xiv | xv → that are finally being taken seriously; and it promises to trigger widespread discussion and development. After all this is not only a story of interest to scholars and professionals, but as it is a story that seldom gets the attention it warrants, it should prove to be an important contribution to those who have been silenced for so long, providing, as it does, a powerful validation and confirmation of experience for all that have been affected.

Prof. Martin Milton
October 2018 ← xv | xvi →

← xvi | xvii →


If there was one principle that literally took possession of my mind in time, it was the ruminating noise of mea culpa. In my socio-historic environs, I was moulded and shaped by this oppressive idea. In my early life, I was directed to self-dissociate by this dominant mode of intelligibility in historic Ireland. To this day, as an adult, I often feel I have yet to transcend its power.

A way of imagining the persecutory power of an oppressive and traumatic social situation is when one thinks of people living in desperate situations, where the weighty presuppositions of social-historical environs narrow our horizons for making meaning of our own psychological experiences. For many of the souls in this book, it often felt like there was a finger pointing at us. In the public domain, when the disturbing behaviours of my deceased father were publicly exposed, the front-page of our local paper described our home as ‘The House of Fear’.

As a young boy, I found myself immersed in the centre of an intense drama. In my historical household, I had this sense that I had to do magical things to transform a tsunami of hurt that had enveloped so many lives. In this repetitive trauma, I seldom trusted my own reactions to events. In my upbringing, I kept secret my shame, thinking I was to blame for the suffering I simply could not fix. In the circumstances of my young life, I was seldom at ease. I am now in my early fifties. Through my own persistence, relational love, and study, I feel I have a better grasp for how my historical consciousness was socially formed. It is not enough to say my family environs captures this dynamic. Rather, how I interpreted dysfunctional family dynamics was further informed by the way I soaked up the value orientation of the wider Irish society.

This atmosphere of pathological self-blame was not always incident related, in overt language/actions. While there were very traumatic and painful episodes, it was the imagined and real gaze of others, that gained distinct power over us, signalling social approval and/or disapproval. Such signals clearly have adaptive value for self-care and an alertness to the ← xvii | xviii → potential for danger. However, in my modes of self-understanding, those messages got very confused, creating a distorted mode of self-relation, where I started to doubt my value as a worthy and lovable person. At the time, I did not have a language for grasping this, other than pray that it would magically disappear. As a young boy, I did not want to be seen as a failure and wanted to be significant. I had little insight how fear and trauma had wound me up. I soaked up ideas that the noise in my head was of my own making. I felt I was the one with the problem.

For example, as a boy, the historic culture I grew up in, validated easily graspable stigma for being gay. In Ireland, tainted ideas of self-neglect and danger were prophesied as a predicted outcome for being gay. Within the preordination of this national script, I felt like a non-entity, a peripheral figure, worthy of contempt, not deserving of sustained love from others. The ideological ground I was born into was of a culture that stigmatized gay people, saying that gay people had no inalienable right to expect protection, and that gay sexual desires were highly offensive to God’s law. Backed by legal laws, this pragmatic moral teaching was a dominant mode of social perception. In my young life, a shared reality was not visible. I struggled to find other gay people whom I could enjoy a shared affinity with. With the exceptions of disrespectful social inferences, an affirming gay narrative was a non-starter in routine conversations. In the rural town I grew up in, being a straight male was the acceptable and expected norm. As a young adult, moving to the City from country towns, lessened the fear of others knowing I was gay.

The historical traumas of my young life, combined with shaming social representations, back-footed me, making me feel guilt-prone for so many stressful situations outside of my control. My authentic core struggled to transcend the stressful imprint of trauma and sexual exploitations. While some recommended sympathy, I distrusted the intent of most persons. I also feared violence and intimidation. In this book study, I clearly illustrate how the foregrounded arbiters for the meaning of my sexual desires, constructed gay desire as objectively disordered development. Dire papal warnings suggested new trends in sexual liberties/freedoms were a moral sickness that threatened the moral fabric of society. Historically, the political and legal establishment reinforced religious stigma. This was how the ← xviii | xix → state monopoly created modes of surveillance in Irish history, informing and shaping Irish people’s attitudes and beliefs about gay people. This was the social terrain I grew up in. To limit possibilities of harm, making oneself invisible, and not drawing unnecessary attention, felt wise.

In this book, the trajectory of the narrative stories, paints a multifactorial tapestry of what twentieth-century Ireland was like, what happened, and what it is like now. I briefly describe the historical antecedents of Ireland’s modern history; how the foregrounded pre-ordinances of my social terrain envelopes and captures the character of a ‘my fault’ ideology within Ireland’s development. In the early to mid-twentieth century, as Ireland moved away from the remnants of British rule, an oppressed Roman Catholic majority was well positioned to redefine a new sense of sovereignty. This appropriation was keenly felt in all the practical domains of Irish life.

My book follows the stories of many damaged lives. I consider myself fortunate to be alive to write about these issues. I am aiming to unravel noxious social inputs, where high sounding ideological ideals were continuously reinforced in micro transactions. These contexts limited the power to act in significant ways. I describe how dominant thought-forms reached deeply rooted experiential capacities for making meaning of key experiences in time. Social messaging is so easily transferred, taking possession of our modes of self-understanding (Rochat 2014; 2013; 2009). In other words, ‘The world exists in our heads every bit as much as our heads are in the world’ (Chandler and Reid 2016: 295). Repetitive traumas generate a pathway of stress and fear, damaging our reflective capacities to make meaning of the external messaging system.


XXXII, 300
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Status Quo Quietude in 20th Century Ireland Moulding Self-Abnegation Systemic Mental Reservation
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. XXXII, 300 pp.

Biographical notes

Gerard Rodgers (Author)

Gerard Rodgers holds a B.Sc (Hons) Psychology and a doctorate in psychotherapy. This is his second academic book.


Title: Resisting the Power of Mea Culpa
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333 pages