Derry man, Brian Doherty, has a message for Pope Francis.
“Don’t forget about Northern Ireland,” said Brian.
Brian Doherty was born in 1947 and when he was three weeks old he was placed into the care of the Sisters of Nazareth in the St. Joseph’s Home in Termonbacca. Brian remained there until he was 14 years-old.
Brian has spoken very openly about the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Sisters of Nazareth in the 1940s and 50s and within the last 12 months he has sent six letters to Pope Francis asking him to meet with survivors of clerical abuse from Northern Ireland.
“The Pope met with clerical abuse victims from Ireland and mainland United Kingdom last month but there was no one there to represent the victims from Northern Ireland. Do we not matter simply because we are from Northern Ireland? It’s as simple as this, child abuse is wrong no matter what part of the world you are from.
“I’ve sent the Pope so many letters and he has still yet to respond.
“I understand that he must be a very busy man but this is something very serious we are talking about here. It’s only fair that we have our say and he, as leader of the Catholic Church, listens,” he said.
Brian led the call for North of Ireland victims of clerical abuse to meet with the Pope when he attended a special meeting in Derry with then Bishop of Derry, Seamus Hegarty, last October.
After many allegations of abuse the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) was set-up to look at allegations of child abuse in children’s homes and other residential institutions in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1995. The inquiry is due to deliver its findings in 2016.
“I received a letter back from the Vatican to tell me they had received one of my letters and they were passing it on to the Holy Father. It was stamped and everything by ‘Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana and is signed by Vice Prefect Ambrogio M Piazzoni. “I just can’t understand why it would take the Pope so long to reply to a letter. I, and many others like me, are not asking for anything we don’t deserve, all we want is what is right.
“Some people have said to me that I shouldn’t be writing to the Pope about the Sisters of Nazareth. These people think that because priests didn’t carry out the abuse in the home in Termonbacca then that absolves the Pope from addressing us.
“Personally I think it’s just a cop-out. The Sisters of Nazareth are part of the Catholic and the Pope is the leader - he has a responsibility to get back to us and hopefully, someday, even meet with us.”
In 2004, Brian wrote a book called ‘Ex Home Boy’s Memoirs: Fahan Termonbacca and Nazareth House 1892-1982’.
Most of what Brian experienced at the hands of the Sisters of Nazareth is still fresh in his mind and he recalled the first time he returned to Termonbacca after he left with his late mother aged 14.
“I wasn’t expecting anything when I went to visit Termonbacca when writing my book. I recall going there with my wife and knocking on the door. Immediately it took me back to when I was a little boy and you would have got a smack from the nuns if you knocked on the front door.
“I went into to Termonbacca with my wife and a few nuns came into the reception area to talk to me and within the click of a finger, I felt like I was back to being a little boy again - I was in my mid-fifties and I was absolutely terrified,” he recalled.
Brian’s mother, who moved to Wales, shortly after Brian was born returned to Derry 14 years after her youngest son entered the home at Termonbacca.
“My mother was praying in church and she turned to my older brother, who was 21 at the time, and said ‘I wish your younger brother was here’. My brother didn’t know anything about me but when my mother told him what had happened he paid for her to return to Derry and to take me out of the home,” he said.
Not all of the boys who were in the Termonbacca home were re-united with their families. Brian recalled times in the home when men and women would come to see which boys were to be shipped to Australia to work.
“When I was researching my book I came across many records of boys as young as seven being sent from Derry to Australia - many of them never saw or heard their families ever again.
“I even remember days when agents acting on behalf of the organisations who shipped children to Australia came to the home. I never got picked because I was always too skinny but many of the boys I’d grown up with were taken away just like that.
“I correspond by letter with one of the boys who was in the home the same time as me. He now live in Australia and we have written many letters to one another.”
Brian now lives in Woolwich and is a retired window cleaner. He still has some family in Derry and visits here when he can.
Last week he brought with him some of his grand-children over from London.
“My grand-children are always asking me about my past and I am only too happy to talk to them about it.
“I don’t see any point in being sheepish about what happened. The nuns abused me and many others like me and the sooner the public know the truth the better.”
Brian remains sceptical about what the HIA Enquiry will say when it delivers its findings in early 2016 and said he is not looking for financial compensation, all he wants is for those responsible to admit to what they did.
“I am not in this for the money,” he said.
“The reason I am so vocal about what happened to me and others like me is because I don’t want to see people getting away with abusing children - I don’t anyone could disagree with that sentiment.
“I don’t hold out much hope for the HIA Enquiry because to take part in the enquiry you have to do so on their terms. I wanted to take a solicitor in with me when I was going to be interviewed but they wouldn’t let me.
“I hope something positive comes out of it but we will just have to wait and see.”
When contacted by The Derry Journal yesterday afternoon a spokesperson for the Vatican said they were unable to comment on Brian’s situation. The Journal also made contact with the Bishops Conference of Ireland but at the time of going to press they had not replied to our query.