Gabriel Byrne: "I experienced sexual abuse"

The "In Treatment" actor opens up about the "known and admitted fact of life" as a young Irish altar boy

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published January 20, 2010 5:21PM (EST)

As Pope Benedict summons Irish bishops to Rome next month to address recent revelations concerning the Church's shoddy handling of sexual abuse by priests in Ireland, yet another victim has spoken out – actor Gabriel Byrne.

Speaking on Irish television this week,  the 59-year-old actor said of his time as a young altar boy, "Unfortunately, I experienced some sexual abuse. It was a known and admitted fact of life amongst us that there was this particular man, and you didn't want to be left in the dressing room with him." He went on to tell of further sexual abuse by clerics after moving to England when he was 11, when he began training to become a priest. "It didn't go on over a prolonged period but it happened at a very, very vulnerable moment."

The bombshell comes on the heels of a scathing 2009 report by The Dublin Archdiocese Commission into the Archdiocese's handling of child sexual abuse involving a staggering "172 named priests and 11 unnamed priests" between 1975 and 2004. That's in just one Archdiocese -- the same one Byrne spent his childhood years earlier. "One unifying strand in all of the complainants' evidence," the report stated, "was the sense of dismay and anger felt by them that their Church, in which they had placed the utmost faith and trust, had in their view, duped and manipulated them over the years and that it had done so in order to preserve its reputation and its assets."

Byrne, meanwhile, who has been forthright about his struggles with depression and alcoholism, admitted similar sentiments. "I didn't think it severely impacted me at the time. But when I think about my later life, and how I had difficulties with certain issues, there is the real possibility they could have been attributable to that."

Like Tyler Perry's revelation last fall of physical and sexual abuse, Byrne's is a major and high-profile move toward freeing victimhood from stigma – especially among males. "It took many years to come to terms with it," Bryrne said, "and to forgive those incidents that I felt had deeply hurt me."

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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