He would be abused later again by a priest in Dublin’s Mount Argus while studying for the priesthood.
But, as Father Brian tells Brendan Courtney in tonight’s Keys To My Life programme, he hasn’t allowed his life to be ruined by the men who defiled him in his young days.
“Everybody that abused me is dead, so why should I let them continue to abuse me from the grave?” he says.
“It’s my life now. I wasn’t responsible when they abused me. I am responsible for holding on to it, if I do.”
Father Brian says the abuse he suffered empowered him to speak out about sex scandals in the church.
“I think, perhaps, maybe it was the best gift that I brought to the church because I could speak fearlessly about how bad abuse was and nobody could contradict me, no matter what kind of pointy hat they wear.”
He said that “because of good people” he had come through his experiences “reasonably well”, adding: “Most days I’m alright.”
Recalling his first experience entering the Passionist monastery in Enniskillen at the age of 17, Father Brian, who is now 76, said he was shocked at how oppressive it was.
“I went dancing the night before in Bundoran with my brother,” he recalls.
“Then I came in here and all of that changed. It was dark corridors and a very spartan cell, rough blankets, no socks just sandals, and you dressed in a rough habit and rough underwear.
“We had to beat ourselves a couple of times a week… flagellate yourself with this thing that represented the five scourges of Christ.
“Hit your bare bottom in memory of the scourging of Christ, which was just a barbarous kind of thing, there was nothing spiritual in it. It was just the training for the job that was ahead.
“It was an exercise in brainwashing to be honest, essentially cultic in its approach, but they called it spirituality.”
In a wide ranging trip through his life, Father Brian also tells how for many years he was treated like an outcast among many of his fellow clergy — and was refused permission to say Mass in churches and perform religious ceremonies — because he was writing a weekly column for the
“Because I wrote for the
Sunday World I wasn’t allowed to do funerals, I wasn’t allowed to do weddings or say Mass,” says Father Brian, who has been a columnist with this newspaper for 40 years.
“I remember going to a cousin’s wedding and the priest suddenly realised when he was giving me permission, ‘Are you the guy that writes for the dirty paper?’ I said, ‘I write for the Sunday World.’ He said, ‘If you are, you won’t stand on my altar!’… and he wouldn’t let me do the wedding because I wrote for the Sunday World.”
However, Father Brian says that Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich urged him to continue writing his columns.
“The late Cardinal Ó Fiaich always said, ‘Keep writing for the Sunday World because you’ve the biggest parish than any priest in Ireland.’ Because it was a million readers. I think it panned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Through his Sunday World columns, Father Brian was highly critical of the church’s handling of child sexual abuse scandals in Ireland before it became a major issue.
“I wrote about it in the ’80s — it was the ’90s before it became a big thing — and I was able to really speak the truth.
“I couldn’t have done that in any other media. So many people were saying that I was the most disloyal cleric ever, but I thought right at the beginning, ‘I have got to tell the truth.’ How can you trust anybody who thinks that the institution is in better need of protection than an innocent child? It’s utterly immoral.”
Father Brian, who was censured by the Vatican at one stage over his Sunday World columns, believes that he was in danger of being defrocked.
“If Pope Francis had not been elected I would have been defrocked,” he says.
“I don’t think of myself as a priest, I don’t think of myself as a journalist, I think of myself as a human being trying to communicate. And that’s all I’ve done in my life, try to understand what sort of a priest my father and mother would want me to be, did it make my mother and father say, ‘yeah, he didn’t let us down’? I’ll take my place in the paper, talk about human beings, and let God do the rest… and God does.”
Father Brian is Ireland’s honorary showbiz chaplain going back to the heyday of the showbands, and when he gets the keys to the National Ballroom on Dublin’s Parnell Square, the memories come flooding back.
“I’d come down as a young priest,” he says of the venue. “There wouldn’t have been another priest that would have stepped foot in here because they used to run the hall and they [showbands] took over from them.
“The bands came from a very bleak Ireland. At one stage priests used to go around dances with a walking stick, putting it between couples so that they couldn’t get too close in case they’d sin. The space had to be left for the Holy Spirit.”
Father Brian recalls a man in Kerry stopping the music after every set of three songs at a Clipper Carlton dance.
“He’d say a few prayers, then he’d look at his watch and say, ‘Start again!’… because he waited for the passions to cool in dances. Everybody else was telling people this was a sin to be at this sort of stuff, and I was saying, ‘no, this is life.’”