“You’re the most resilient person I’ve ever met,” Hozier tells Colm O'Gorman — executive director of Amnesty International Ireland — on the eighth episode of the Cry Power podcast.
When O'Gorman was 17 years old, he was homeless for six months on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. The story of how he got there and the way he rebuilt his life in the aftermath is an extraordinary tale of the indomitable human spirit — and the potency of individual action.
Colm O'Gorman is the man who sued Pope John Paul II.
His background is actually in psychotherapy — he was professionally trained to support the mental well-being of sexual violence survivors. It’s an issue that’s deeply personal to him. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, O'Gorman found himself isolated in a culture of silence as he was repeatedly sexually violated within the Catholic Church.
He has very few memories of the first time he was abused as a child — at the hands of two serial paedophiles in his small village in Ireland. He and his family moved towns, but when he was 10, he was assaulted again by an older teenage neighbour.
Later, O'Gorman found purpose in work with a local youth group and sang with a folk band in his church. Then aged 14, a priest invited him to help set up another community group in a more rural town. He was excited at the opportunity, unaware of the coercement. That priest went on to sexually assault him over a period of three years, sustained with threats and blackmail.
Shame and confusion soon followed, and O'Gorman began to question his whole life. By the time he was 17, he was depressed and experienced suicidal thoughts — and fled to Dublin where he began sleeping rough. He thought: “If this is real then everything I know about the world can’t be true.”
Colm's outlook embodies much of what this podcast is about and why these chats are interesting & important to me. He is a man of immense conscience and moral vision. Thank you @Colmogorman for sharing your story.— Hozier (@Hozier) February 12, 2020
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It wasn’t until he was 18 that he could access support from the Irish welfare state. He then went on to get a job in a coffee shop: one shift would mean enough money to have a bed for the night. Slowly, precariously, O'Gorman began to regain some sense of control. Over the next two years, he made friends, fell in love, and moved to London. Within 10 years he had bought a house and qualified as a therapist.
“Human resilience is an extraordinary thing and I just got through it,” O'Gorman says. “Life always seeks to manifest itself in a healthy, powerful, affirming way. It tries to move to health.”
But there was an unresolved injustice: Years later, he heard that the priest who abused him might still be harming children back in Ireland. He couldn’t let that stand. One action led to another — and in 1998 he found himself launching an ambitious legal case against his abuser, the Catholic Church, and the Pope himself.
“It was a very obvious thing to do to me,” O'Gorman explains. “We had to find a mechanism to force them to tell the truth.”
“Why should any individual or institution whoever they might be ... be above the law? Or be above what’s simply right?” he adds. “The law exists to serve a purpose, to deal with injustice, to deal with offences against humanity, against goodness, against love. So why should anybody or any institution … be above being accountable to an offence against love?”
His story was the subject of a BBC documentary in 2002 called Suing the Pope. It went on to win a BAFTA — and the next year, O'Gorman won €300,000 in damages.
He also founded an organisation called One in Four: a psychological support system for survivors of sexual abuse just like him. While he was a therapist in London at the time, he realised that there was no service that offered practical help survivors needed — so in 1999 he set one up: “as you do when you’re seized by an idea that seems right, I woke up one morning and thought I’d start one.” It’s an organisation still working to empower survivors to this day.
Now, he heads up Amnesty’s arm in Ireland, defending human rights around the world. Founded in 1951, it’s an organisation with over 7 million members globally, and 20,000 in Ireland alone. His story is a powerful reminder of the value of bold personal action in the face of unimaginable struggle. He remains a passionate advocate for the immense power of every individual.
“The only thing that ever really changes the world, the only thing that holds power to account, is when ordinary people seize and manifest their own power and demand change,” O'Gorman tells Hozier.
“It’s not just that change through the actions of individuals is possible — it’s actually inevitable,” he adds. “If one of us stays focused on demanding the truth: that’s a powerful act and that begins to create change. If enough of us do, it becomes irresistible. We are all more powerful than we imagine we are.”
Hozier and O'Gorman became friends after first meeting at the Safe Ireland Summit in 2016. Last year, Hozier performed at O'Gorman’s Stand for Truth rally in Dublin, a protest during Pope Francis’ visit to the country that stood in solidarity — a word O'Gorman says is about “a connection and understanding of the oneness of who we are” — with those harmed by the Catholic Church.
“Empathy is a courageous act. Loving is a courageous act,” Hozier says on the podcast. "It’s the coward that points the gun … How do you get to the point where you can share a story like that?”
“I learned to forgive myself for something I hadn’t done,” O'Gorman responds. “I discovered a true and genuine sense of compassion for myself and a way back to valuing and loving myself.”
It’s that profound empathy to other human beings that leaves O'Gorman with a real sense of optimism. Despite the chaos of the world around us, he can’t help but feel there’s a furious potential in people to make life better for each other — and to stay connected.
“My heart is always full of hope because I think at the heart of our humanity lies love and compassion and empathy and goodness beyond imagination,” he says. “If only we’d create the conditions for it to manifest.”
The last episodes of Cry Power will drop weekly. Head to GlobalCitizen.org/CryPower to check out the latest episodes, take action on the vital issues discussed in the podcast, and to #PowerTheMovement to end extreme poverty.