Gardai quiz couple over incest Taunts

Sunday Times/February 8, 2004
By Richard Oakley

A Former editor of the Irish Catholic and her husband are being investigated for disrupting Masses and mak­ing unfounded allegations of incest against a family.

Bridget - Anne Ryan approached the altar at the Holy Family Church in Kill 0' the Grange, Dun Laoghaire, last Sunday and began shouting at the parish priest. She was accompanied by her husband, Benedict Hogan.

Fr Martin Tierney gave a statement to gardai about the incident, which he described as "frightening" and "like nothing he had seen before."

Three weeks ago Ryan and Hogan handed out leaflets to parishioners at St Patrick's Church in Trim, Co Meath, that contained unfounded allega­tions of incest involving a respected local family. The leaflets were produced by an organi­sation calling itself Protect Children Against Incest and included their names and phone numbers. On them, Ryan described herself as an "incest survivor."

The two have confirmed they were involved in both incidents and say they stand over their allegations. In an interview, they said their organisation, now called Protect Children From Incest, was set up to "expose incest and the families and individuals who try to cover it up." Gardai in Trim were made aware of the leaflets and are investigating the matter.

The couple are members of the Pilgrim House Community, a radical Catholic organisation that cares for mentally handi­capped adults. It first came to the public's attention when 14 of its members were denied access to Israel in October 1999. Israeli authorities wrongly believed they were members of a doomsday extrem­ist sect and the matter was at one point discussed between The Irish and Israeli foreign ministers. The community denied it was a cult, describing its members as pilgrims. The allegations made by Ryan and Hogan in the past month, which are baseless, relate to a now deceased uncle of Kevin and Frank Foley, the All-Ireland winning Meath footballers. Their sister, Margaret Foley Smyth, committed suicide in May 2001 while she was a member of Pilgrim House, which was based in Inch, Co Wexford, at the time.

A coroner's court hearing into her death in October 2001 concluded that she hanged a herself after a violent row with her husband Martin, from whom she was separated and who was also a member of the community. The court in Gorey, Co Wexford heard that during the row Smyth had kicked and punched her. The incident focused media attention on the activities of the religious community, which re was charged with caring for seven mentally handicapped people at the time. It was the subject of an RTE Would You Believe television documentary and a Magill magazine investigation. The reports carried claims by Dialogue Ireland, an organisation that gathers information on new religious movements, that the community was showing was showing cult-like characteristics. Pilgrim House denied that it was a cult at the time and the health board said it was happy with the level of care the mentally handicapped people received. The outburst against Tierney relates to his former role as chairman of Dialogue Ireland. At the time of the RTE docu­mentary he was approached by Pilgrim House and asked to make representations to Mike Garde, a spokesman for Dia­logue Ireland, on its behalf. He did not do so, which apparently irked Ryan and may have prompted last week's events.

"She and her husband came at me from different sides near the end of the Mass," said the priest. "He was carrying a child. She came to within a foot of my face and was shouting at me. He was too. The church was full and some of the elderly people were frightened by what was happening. Some parishioners tried to get them to leave, but without success. Eventually we had to sing a hymn to drown them out and they left. I have given a statement to Gardai." The Foley family made a for­mal complaint to Gardai in Trim yesterday. Ryan said this weekend that the Pilgrim House Community no longer existed and that it was "destroyed by lies." "There is an organisation now, there is no community any more," said Hogan. It is understood that some of its former members are cur­rently based in Donabate in Co. Dublin and care for five mentally handicapped people placed with it by the three East­ern region health boards. A spokesman for one of the health boards said this week that it was satisfied with the arrangement.

Ryan said this weekend that she plans to target more people, and more Masses. She said she welcomed the Garda investigation. "What we are claiming is not unfounded, we know it is true," she said. "We are going to he visiting a lot more people." She said the two had a right to disrupt a Mass. "Have you noticed the amount of paedophilia in the Catholic Church," she said. The two did not accept that they could not make unfounded allegations about people. "These are statements of truth," said Hogan. Ryan claimed that Foley Smyth had personally told her that she was abused by an uncle who is now deceased. The Foley family has rejected the claims made against them.

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