Abuse victim slams church for allowing paedo access to kids

Kerry Lawless
Kerry Lawless

Former choir boy Kerry Lawless today places the iconic St Patrick’s Cathedral right at the epicentre of a child abuse scandal that is sure to rock the Church of Ireland to its core.

The ex-pupil of St Patrick’s Grammar School has bravely waived his anonymity to reveal how Church authorities were informed that volunteer Pat O’Brien was a paedophile – but continued to allow him work with young children at the Cathedral for nearly two decades.

Kerry was only eight years old when he was first abused by O’Brien after the young boy accepted a lift to choir practice. He was given a handful of coins and told to keep their secret.

In 1987, he told his parents and Gardaí of the abuse and an investigation was launched. O’Brien pleaded guilty and received a two-year suspended sentence.

However, he continued to volunteer at St Patrick’s Cathedral, where he had access to countless other children despite the Church authorities being informed of his record.

O’Brien, who is suspected of orchestrating one of the most-prolific campaigns of child abuse ever in Ireland, may have committed more than 1,000 offences over four decades.

He sexually molested children in the Cathedral, on a boat on the Shannon, as well as in hotel rooms, laneways, his upmarket Knocklyon home, a shed on the northside of the capital and at locations in Mayo, Limerick, Wexford and Laois.

“I was one of the boys that he interfered with, from the age of eight,  when I was in the choir. When I was 15 I told my parents what had happened  to me and there was a social worker involved and I went to the Gardaí.

“I was the first person to report him and he admitted it all. He went to court and was convicted and given a two-year suspended sentence. 

“My parents informed St Patrick’s Cathedral. The Dean at the time was Victor Griffin. They told him what had happened to me and that Pat had pleaded guilty and was convicted and sentenced,” said the community worker.

“Years later, I found out that they had done nothing about him and he was still working in St Patrick’s Cathedral. I couldn’t believe it. He had admitted he abused me and they had let him continue to work in the Church and have access to other children. 

O’Brien was taken into custody two weeks ago after pleading guilty to sexually abusing 14 separate victims. The new charges came following an investigation that is believed to involve the largest amount of offences ever reported against an individual in this country.

The softly-spoken retired engineer – who paid his victims for their silence – is due for sentence hearing in October, where details from three vast books of evidence against him will be heard. He is currently in Arbour Hill Prison.

Patrick O'Brien

Kerry (44), was a pupil of St Patrick’s Grammar School and a member of the famous Cathedral choir when he first met O’Brien.

“I lived in Drimnagh, where he was living at the time, and I used to get the bus to school – so he would offer me a lift. In my case, it happened in a laneway off Meath Street when he would park up his car. He always gave me money and said it was our secret.

“I was so young, I couldn’t understand what was happening and it went on for a few years until I was about 12 and I suppose I realised what was happening and I called a halt to it. 

“I told my parents when I was about 15. They went to the Gardaí and they went to the Cathedral. O’Brien admitted to everything, but he tried to get me to drop the case. 

“He wrote letters to my parents and me which I still have. In one, he asked me to drop the case as he was worried about his mother’s health.”

In the letter dated April 8, 1988, O’Brien wrote: “As you can imagine this is causing me great concern and I know it is probably only what I deserve. My biggest worry is my mother’s health. I know that the outcome, should you proceed, will be damaging to her. The action you are persisting with will, no doubt, cause her extreme problems and hardship.

“I can assure you I am totally contrite for what happened and I can assure you that it will never re-occur.”

Kerry went ahead with his case despite the pleas from O’Brien, in the hopes that if he secured a conviction against his abuser then no other child would have to endure what he did.

Despite his supposed remorse and promises that he would never re-offend, O’Brien was back to his old ways within a short period of time.

Kerry finished his education and moved to the U.S. in the years after the court case, but when he returned to Ireland in 2004 he was stunned to find that O’Brien was still working at St Patrick’s Cathedral.

“I tracked him down and met up with him myself. I went to the Cathedral and spoke to the Dean who was there. The  Dean then admitted that they had been made aware of O’Brien’s past in more recent years too. So it was hard to understand,” he said.

“The last communication I had from them was a letter to say that the Board members were distressed to learn that a member of the Church choir had been abused, but that O’Brien was not a clergyman, so basically it wasn’t their problem.

“I am not involved in any on-going civil proceedings against St Patrick’s Cathedral, but I think it is disgraceful that they could have allowed O’Brien to have access to children there.”