‘People say ‘why didn’t you report it before?’ You are asking a ten-year-old traumatised child to talk about something they have locked away’
Disturbing allegations of rape against a Greater Manchester priest have emerged as a new report says the Catholic church prioritised its own reputation over the welfare of vulnerable children.
Father Aidan O’Reilly, formerly of St Hugh of Lincoln RC Church in Stretford, was reported to police by a man who told detectives he was taken out of lessons in primary school and raped.about:blank?unblock=true
The allegations did not result in any criminal action, because Fr O’Reilly died in 2011, six years before they were made.
But a senior detective was convinced the evidence was strong enough to result in prosecution. The Manchester Evening News has seen a letter in which the victim was told it was ‘very likely’ Fr O’Reilly would have been charged with multiple counts of rape had he been alive.
Meanwhile the Diocese of Salford has confirmed it has provided ‘therapeutic support’ to the complainant, who has spoken of his experiences to the Truth Project, part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). His testimony to the Truth Project will be used to recommend changes to protect children from abuse.
Using the pseudonym Frankie Paige, the man has chosen to speak out as a new report by the IICSA is published – a report which found that the Catholic Church ignored allegations and protected perpetrators.
Frankie told the Manchester Evening News he was abused at St Hugh of Lincoln Church during the 1990s.
He reported that when he was at St Hugh of Lincoln RC Primary School the priest would enter the classroom and say he needed a child to help him in church, before taking him to the sacristy and subjecting him to violent sexual assaults.
“You would be taken there and it would happen,” Frankie said.
“I was ten years old. I didn’t tell anyone.”
The IICSA’s report said today that the Catholic church’s moral purpose had been betrayed by those who sexually abused children, as well as those who turned a blind eye and failed to take action against abusers.
More than 900 complaints involving over 3,000 instances of child sexual abuse in England and Wales were made to the church between 1970 and 2015.
But investigators say the true scale of abuse over the last 50 years is likely to have been far higher.
Frankie told the M.E.N. that Fr O’Reilly scared him into keeping quiet about his ordeal.
“He would say it was a sin to talk about it and you would go to hell and die if you told anyone,” he said.
“At that time I thought he was the image of God on earth so that was God telling me that.
“I think I was in shock and just terrified. I would be frozen like someone had hit pause. Then I would be going back to class to prepare for the 11+ exam.
“He was the adult and there was this big sense of authority with a priest.
“He entered the school without going through reception. He would go in and just take children to church. The teachers allowed it to happen. Nobody ever asked about it.
“I think the teachers should have noticed something.”
The Truth Project
The Truth Project is part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
The Inquiry was set up to address serious concerns that some organisations have failed to protect children from sexual abuse.
The Truth Project offers victims and survivors of child sexual abuse the chance to share their experiences and be heard with respect.
More than 5,000 people have already come forward to the Truth Project.
Their comments, experiences and suggestions will be used to help Inquiry bosses recommend changes to protect children from abuse, now and in the future.
You can share your experience in writing, by phone, by video call or in person.
People are encouraged to apply before the Truth Project concludes in 2021.
All the details are here.
It wasn’t until 2017 that Frankie was able to talk to police.
“I think until then I was too traumatised,” he said.
Greater Manchester Police launched an investigation, following which Detective Inspector Dave Jones wrote a letter to Frankie in which he stated: “The abuse you were subjected to as a child is abhorrent”.
After reviewing the evidence, DI Jones concluded Frankie had suffered ‘repeated and violent sexual abuse’ whilst at school at the hands of Father Aidan O’Reilly.
He wrote: “I am quite confident that had Aidan O’Reilly been alive today there would be a strong case against him for several offences and it is very likely this would have resulted in multiple charges of rape against him.”
“Ten years earlier a psychologist had told me that to open that Pandora’s box would make me unwell and I would need a lot of support. He was right,” Frankie said.
“For two years following my disclosure I was really bad. It made me unwell.
“People say ‘why didn’t you report it before?’ You are asking a ten-year-old traumatised child to talk about something they have locked away.”
Frankie, who is now an atheist, says his mental health, education and relationships have all suffered as a result of the abuse.
“Members of my family are still religious and I feel there is a growing wedge there,” he said.
“I find it difficult to be in church, to see a priest, I find it overwhelming.
“Only a few people know the whole story.”
A GMP spokesperson said officers received a report of ‘non-recent child sexual offences relating to a deceased suspect’ in 2017.
“An investigation was opened but has since been closed as the suspect is deceased,” they said.
According to an obituary, Irish-born O’Reilly was ordained in 1959 and served the diocese as an assistant priest, parish priest and pastor emeritus at churches in Oldham, Stockport, Manchester, Trafford, Rochdale, Salford and Lancashire – moving 12 times during his career.
He retired from active ministry in 2000 and died at Nazareth House in Prestwich in early 2011, aged 78.
Frankie claims that concerns were raised about O’Reilly by teachers at his school during the 1990s – a claim the Diocese strongly denies.
But Frankie said: “At some point the church must have been aware of complaints.
“They may have thought that protecting the church was more important than protecting the children and God’s law is above the actual law.”
He added: “The Diocese has asked me twice if I want to rejoin the church. I told them I believe it’s an unsafe place for children and vulnerable people.”
Frankie also claims that O’Reilly was sent on a trip to Lourdes, in France, in the 1990s.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is visited by millions of Roman Catholics each year, often for its healing waters.
Frankie understands that O’Reilly was sent on the pilgrimage as a ‘sick pilgrim’.
He says during his own investigations into O’Reilly, he was told that allegations of inappropriate behaviour were made against the priest by two children who were also visiting Lourdes.
The M.E.N understand these allegations were not reported to Greater Manchester Police, and the Diocese of Salford says it has not had any other complaints about Fr O’Reilly.
They said: “Until the 2017 allegation there had been no allegations nor reports of sexual abuse or sexual assault made to the diocese from any source – parent, child or teacher.
“Fr O’Reilly attended the pilgrimage and his status as a ‘sick pilgrim’ related to a medical condition.”
The Diocese says there is no place for abuse in the Church any concerns regarding children, young people and vulnerable adults will be investigated and reported.
“The Diocese of Salford has clear safeguarding practices and procedures and any concern, historic or recent, raised to the Diocese regarding children, young people and vulnerable adults will always be treated with the utmost care and concern,” a spokesperson said.
“In line with national procedures, all allegations, whether relating to recent or non-recent abuse, are reported to the relevant statutory authorities
“In response to this case and in line with diocesan safeguarding practices we have provided pastoral and therapeutic support to the individual via our independent survivor’s project ‘Healing through Community’, on a completely confidential basis,” the statement added.
“We will continue to cooperate with all the relevant agencies involved since the allegations were reported in 2017.
“As a Church our role is to support the most vulnerable among us. There is no place for abuse in our society and the Church is no different, our involvement in the Healing Through Community project creates further opportunities for the Diocese to meet its responsibility of support and compassion to all its parishioners, wherever they are and where their abuse happened.
“The support on offer via our Healing Through Community project can be accessed by anyone living within the Diocese of Salford. If you would like to access help please call Survivors Manchester on 0161 236 2182 or Greater Manchester Rape Crisis on 0161 273 450.”
Frankie has also reported teachers who had been in charge of him at his former school to police, alleging neglect, saying they allowed Fr O’Reilly to take him out of lessons without permission from his parents, under the guise of church duties, during which time he was abused.
“The school should have adequately trained their staff to spot abuse. Those teachers failed children in multiple ways – and failed parents by not asking permission,” he said.
While Frankie believes he wasn’t adequately protected, he does believe teachers at the school raised concerns about O’Reilly’s behaviour around children in the mid 1990s to a Bishop, shortly before Fr O’Reilly left Stretford.
The letter to Frankie from DI Dave Jones lends support to this, with DI Jones saying he is aware that concerns were raised in respect of Fr O’Reilly in the mid 1990s with regards to ‘concerning behaviour around children.
The officer added: “These concerns were raised by teachers at the school and as a result AOR (Aidan O’Reilly) was moved to a different church away from children. This suggests that at the point the teachers did have concerns they raised them.”
“I agree this should have been reported to Police and I am confident that should abuse such as this occur in 2020 this would be reported,” he wrote.
However, the Diocese of Salford say the priest moved from Stretford – to Bury – simply ‘because he retired from ministry’.
Meanwhile, police have confirmed that they opened an investigation into the conduct of teachers following Frankie’s complaint.
“In 2020, GMP received a report of non-recent neglect relating to a school in the Trafford area,” a spokesperson for the force said.
“An investigation was opened but has since been closed as the evidence did not meet the CPS’ Threshold Test.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Trafford Council said: “School Governing Bodies have responsibility for ensuring all children are safe in their schools at all times.
“The DfE (Department for Education) has issued specific statutory guidance for schools, ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’, which sets out the responsibilities placed on schools and colleges to safeguard and promote the welfare of children which was updated on the 1st September 2020.
“Trafford Council continues to provide advice, support and guidance to schools on all areas of safeguarding and Ofsted, the regulatory body, also review the safeguarding of pupils as part of their inspection of schools.
“In respect of security at St Hugh of Lincoln RC Primary School this is taken seriously and all appropriate measures are put in place to ensure children are kept safe at all times.”
In his letter to Frankie, DI Dave Jones wrote that it ‘wasn’t disputed’ that he had been allowed by teachers to go off with the priest when he was at primary school in the nineties, but that there was enough evidence to support neglect charges against teachers.
“Having considered all of the available material, I do not believe there is sufficient evidence to suggest that any of the teachers were aware that you were being abused,” he said.
He added: “It is not disputed they allowed you to go off with AOR. I appreciate that you quite rightly point out that no permission slips were given by your parents and so this should not have been allowed.
“All of those points have left you exposed to risk and I do not dispute that.”
The new IICSA report has found that the Catholic Church repeatedly failed to support victims and survivors, while taking positive action to protect alleged perpetrators, including moving them to different parishes.
Professor Alexis Jay OBE, Chair of the Inquiry, said: “For decades, the Catholic Church’s failure to tackle child sexual abuse consigned many more children to the same fate.
“It is clear that the Church’s reputation was valued above the welfare of victims, with allegations ignored and perpetrators protected.
“Even today, the responses of the Holy See appear at odds with the Pope’s promise to take action on this hugely important problem.about:blank?unblock=true
“While some progress has been made, there still needs to be lasting change to culture and attitudes to avoid repeating the failures of the past.”
A number of witnesses spoke during the Inquiry of the need for improvements to training, including Dawn Lundergan, director of Safeguarding at the Diocese of Salford.
She said: “The development of a nationally approved accredited training programme for those at all levels who are involved with safeguarding would be worthy of serious consideration to aim at consistent and robust training for all at whatever the appropriate levels their roles may entail.”