MORE than 200 people have now come forward with allegations of abuse against 77 members of the Spiritans, the religious order that runs some of the top schools in the Republic, including Blackrock College in Dublin.
Gardaí attached to the sexual crime management unit are leading the investigation into the activities of the priests attached to the Spiritans, also known as the Holy Ghost Fathers.
The Spiritans have paid out more than €5m in settlements to former pupils of Blackrock and other schools in Dublin and Co Tipperary. In total, 233 people have come forward with allegations of sexual and physical abuse.
While there have been calls for an independent inquiry, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was up to the criminal justice system to deal with the allegations.
Fr Martin Kelly, leader of the Spiritans, said: "I apologise sincerely to those who have been so grievously hurt and assure victims/survivors that our congregation is doing all in its power to help those who have been injured.”
Following consultation with former pupils of Blackrock College and its feeder primary school, Willow Park, the Spiritans announced what it described as a restorative justice process "with people who suffered abuse while attending those schools".
"Initially, this Restorative Justice Process will be piloted with a cohort of former pupils of Willow Park/Blackrock College who have expressed an interest in participating," Fr Kelly said.
"On completion of the pilot phase and its evaluation, the learnings gained will be integrated into the Spiritan response to victims/survivors in future safeguarding measures.
Alan MacGinty, Blackrock College principal, said the school was "appalled that pupils had suffered harrowing and life-changing experiences".
"It is a shameful period in our history which is deeply regretted," Mr McGinty said.
At least six abusers are known to have operated at the Blackrock/Willow Park campus. The Spiritans also run Rockwell College in Co Tipperary along with St Michael’s, St Mary’s and Templeogue College in Dublin.
The missionary order also run schools in Africa and there is evidence perpetrators taught in Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
RTÉ radio documentary ‘Blackrock Boys’ recounted the stories of Mark Ryan, 61, and his brother David, 58. They told described being groomed and assaulted in the 1970s and 1980s by Fr Tom O’Byrne and other priests.
O’Byrne used his access to computers and a swimming pool to entice and corner his victims. “That’s part of the grooming, being chosen, made to feel special,” Mark Ryan told the documentary.
Gardaí investigating complaints made by the brothers and charges were brought against O’Byrne. However, a court halted the prosecution in 2007 due to the accused advanced age. He died in 2010.
Former Blackrock pupils then told RTÉ’s Liveline of their experiences, including one who claimed he was abused by three priests.
Mr Martin said the criminal justice system should now be the focus rather than a public inquiry.
"There is an enormity to any such investigation and I think one of the issues that we need to learn from all of the inquiries that we have had is to stretch and ensure that the existing mechanisms, particularly in (the) criminal justice (system), are deployed fairly relentlessly and in a very focused way."