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Non-Fiction / Caroline Lawless

CW: sexual abuse


Issue 1. February 01, 2021

Draw me a picture of your sins. Paint it black and red and yellow, highlight it with the white of shame. And then show it to me so that I can judge it, prescribe your penance, and save you from yourself.


I heard your name on the news today. A different title, more senior now, but it was you all the same. I wonder, is that your reward for the mess you had to clean up? The deep waters you threaded, the questions you had to answer in the summer of 1995.

You were so young back then, someone we could relate to, fresh faced and eager.


My thirteenth birthday party, that same summer, was the first time I ever wore makeup. A back garden evening party with all my friends, girls and boys, playing spin the bottle and hiding out in the tree house as the sun set.

Bright orange eyeshadow. What a way to make a mark. The colour orange is said to relate to our gut instincts. That deep, internal feeling of right or wrong, good or evil. Right down in the dark pit of your stomach.


A woman walks into a Garda station with her two sons. She wishes to make a complaint. She wishes she didn’t have to. They aren’t the first.


I spent that summer cutting the tarmac of the church car park rollerblading with my friends. All of us on the cusp of teendom. All of us freshly confirmed. Bringing us closer to Him. Bestowing us with the Holy Spirit’s gifts. Wisdom. Knowledge. Right judgement. Understanding. Courage. Devotion to, and fear of, the Lord.

A rite of passage. The enlightenment. If only we knew.

And we were there so often, we noticed he was gone. There one minute, gone the next. And I thought it was strange. He was here for so long, as long as I was alive. Thirteen years. Unlucky for some. A stalwart of the community.


What ways have you not shown God’s love, my child?

What ways have you disconnected from your own goodness?

Can you count all the ways?

Tell me.


There’s a significant difference between what you choose to know and what you choose to overlook. The same difference that lies between what they think you are entitled to know and that which should remain concealed. Who are they to decide?

Nobody saw what was to come, but they knew.


A skeleton crew from RTÉ heckled out of Sunday mass by the congregation, on the Sunday that we sat as close to the altar as we could get - not usual for our family, who always sat in ‘The Crying Room’. And you, standing behind the pulpit, pale with the inability to answer their questions. The questions that were on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but only the news reporter could shout back at you as the crew was escorted out of the church. The questions everyone wanted the answers to. Too afraid to ask.

How could this have happened? And he wasn’t even here to be held to account, to draw a picture of his sins, and repent. He’d been burrowed away, under the black cover of darkness, as he had been before.

Out. Out. Out, out.

Followed by a rousing round of applause when they’d left.


One hundred and fifty altar servers - some former, some current and still children themselves - were interviewed. A blue and white Garda car sat at the end of many driveways, causing the neighbours to question what they’d done wrong.

Is there anything you’d like to tell us?

Parents recalled the times he’d minded their children.

And the little boy who wanted to go to any priest but him to give his first confession, was glad he’d listened to his gut.


Orange offers emotional strength in times of grief or trauma.


Yes, he was a priest. Yes, he was a sex criminal. Yes, he was a paedophile. Yes, he was a child molester. Yes, he was chaplain of Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin from 1968 for a number of years. Yes, he’d done it before - from Mourne Road to Cabra to Sutton - moved from one parish to the next since the late ‘60’s. Yes, he’d undergone three psychiatric assessments in the space of thirteen years - 1981, 1991, 1994. Yes, nothing was done to stop him.

He was moved along an ever opening path.


An upstanding citizen, a minor Irish celebrity, has to have his opinion on the matter published in a national broadsheet newspaper. To show the other side, for the sake of balance. To save this man from those who stalk him, who want justice.

He was a good, kind and decent man. The only priest in the parish who remembered everyone’s name.

He was good. He was kind. He was decent. He remembered your name. He knew.

The lies we tell ourselves to reason with the struggle between head and gut.


Thirty one victims were traced.

Only nine eventually made it to court.

He was not the only perpetrator. There were many many many more, all around the world. Too many to count. And for every perpetrator there were countless victims - unborn, newborn, children, women, men - no one was beyond the grasp of their institution. The Church.


Orange is a symbol of strength and endurance, where the red fire of passion meets the yellow flame of wisdom.


After ten years of work, the Ryan report, an inquiry into the institutional abuse of Irish children from 1936 onwards, was published in 2009.

Inmates and slaves. Beatings, ritual and naked. Oral sex. Rape. Bodies buried in septic tank mass graves. Silenced.

All under the watchful eye of an endemic culture of self-serving secrecy.


Myself and my friends stand at the top of a long winding road, an estate full of big white houses, cast in the warm orange and yellow light of this summer evening. We line up, rollerblades on, each one of us with our hands on the shoulders of the person in front.

A teenage rollerblading chain reaction about to be set in motion. The first in line glides one foot forward, and one by one, down the hill we go. If one falls we all fall. We all fall down.


I’ll draw you a picture of my sins. I’ll paint it black and red and yellow, highlight it with the white of shame. And then I’ll show it to you so that you can judge it, prescribe my penance, and save me from myself.

Currently based in Wexford, Ireland, Caroline Lawless writes nonfiction short stories, essays and poetry inspired by her unique life experiences. Having recently completed Corporeal Writing’s From the Fragments course, led by Roe McDermott, she is now hoping to debut her work and delight readers.

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