Noel Pattern’s experiences of abuse, bereavement and crime were a blight on his life. But, as he tells GEORGE LUKE, God is in the business of restoration
In October 2005, Ireland’s Minister for Children published the report of the Ferns Inquiry, set up to examine the handling of over 100 allegations of child sexual abuse made against Roman Catholic priests in the Diocese of Ferns over a 40-year period.
The Report’s findings were damning. “It is clear that effective action was not taken to protect vulnerable children over a period of many years,” it concluded.
For Noel Pattern, the Ferns Report brought closure on the first of several dark chapters in his life.
“I was asked to speak at the Ferns Inquiry, and I did – reluctantly, because it was something I didn’t want to talk about,” says Noel.
“I had decided that I would forgive the abuse I’d suffered and move on by ignoring it. But speaking at Ferns was part of my healing, and it gave me the opportunity to get involved in counselling.
“Through that and the support of a lot of people close to me, I opened up and release came.”
Noel’s autobiography, Forgiving Ferns, is one of those stories you simply could not make up if you tried. As well as the sexual abuse he suffered as a 12-year-old altar boy, it also covers the death of both his parents, his betrayal by a gay lover, time spent in a biker gang dabbling in crime and getting involved with terrorists; suicide attempts, arrest, extradition and a two-year fight with cancer.
As a child, church was very much central in Noel’s life. “Growing up in Ireland was quite a positive experience, despite the fact that there was a lot of unemployment,” he says.
“I grew up in a place in County Wexford called Gorey, in the parish of Ferns. I wasn’t into sports much, but there were other social activities like drumming, Irish bagpipe clubs and music.
“I was quite involved in the church. I went to a notoriously strict Catholic school, and most of us from the school were sent to the church to be altar boys.”
Noel’s abuser was a trainee priest well known to his family. For three years, the priest repeatedly told Noel that he was gay, and that there would be “severe consequences” if he told anyone of their secret.
When the priest moved to another parish, Noel plucked up the courage to tell his dad about the abuse. Just six hours later, his dad died of a heart attack. Within a fortnight his mother was also dead. Noel was devastated, convinced that this was the priest’s words coming true.
Dropping out of school, Noel fell into petty crime, acting as a courier for a gang of bikers. His criminal activities soon escalated into punishment beatings and post office robberies.
An armed post office robbery went wrong and Noel fled to London. Here his life took a completely new direction when he became a Christian and a member of an evangelical church.
He met his wife Claire through a church group, but never told her about his past life. His secret eventually came out when he stopped an armed mugger and ended up in the local press as a have-a-go hero. His true identity was revealed and Noel was extradited to Ireland under the Temporary Provisions Act.
Noel’s extradition caused complications between the British and Irish governments and the charges against him were eventually dropped for political reasons. He was given a 14-year suspended sentence and released on licence for seven years. Remarkably, Clare stood by him through it all.
Today, Noel and Claire live in Suffolk with their two daughters. Noel works as a mental health worker supporting the abused and bereaved; Claire works alongside an organisation set up to help women trapped in prostitution escape to a normal life.
Noel devotes a lot of his time to missions-related work. He supports Don Egan (his co-author on Forgiving Ferns) in mission work amongst the poor in Rwanda. Noel is also a member of the Psalm Drummers, with whom he has been on three mission trips to India.
“I don’t believe that God just saves people and brings them into a relationship and then abandons them,” says Noel. “I believe that he takes people and works with them step by step, holding their hands along the way.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned through everything I’ve been through is in Genesis 50:20. The enemy meant to harm me, but God meant it for good; to restore me while I am alive.”
Forgiving Ferns by Noel Pattern is published by Ferns Emerald Publications, £7.99, ISBN 978-0-9561209-0-8.
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