"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."
At the end of the week when Frank McCourt finally succumbed to illness, the above quote, taken from his best known work, Angela's Ashes, has rarely been more relevant.
Less than 24 hours after news of his death emerged last Tuesday, the long-awaited report of the commission set up to investigate clerical child abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin was sent to government.
More than three years in the making, the report is expected to outline a litany of abuses by Dublin priests, and repeated failures by their bishop superiors to put a stop to their actions.
But what is it about Irish priests that made them so prone to become abusers? And why, then, do such a large number of abusers in countries such as the USA and Australia have Irish origins?
Trying to understand the answers to these questions firstly requires an examination of the world in which both they, and many of the children they abused, grew up.
As the Ryan report repeatedly charts, Ireland during the majority of the last century was a society where repression and obedience, much of it church-led, was the order of the day.
Dr Niall Muldoon, national clinical director with the Children at Risk in Ireland (Cari) foundation, which counsels victims of abuse, notes that there was a clear emphasis by the Catholic hierarchy on "getting a child early on".
As a result, you had 12- or 13-year-olds who were brought up to distrust close relationships – for example, always being told to walk in groups of three rather than two.
If you were a recruit for the priesthood, and you were found to be too close to someone, you were often punished.
The effect of this on young personalities still in formation cannot be underestimated.
"Straight away you're teaching someone to be isolated, closed off, not sharing feelings," Muldoon believes.
"I think this stunted their growth, and that added enormously to the prospect of someone going off the tracks.
"People thrive on love, companionship… But if you take a child at 12 or 13 years of age, and if their sexuality tries to raise its head against that background, it is hugely problematic."
In this regard, Muldoon says the idea that young, inexperienced trainee Irish priests could freely commit to a life of celibacy is also difficult to comprehend.
"The concept of celibacy has to be considered in the context of someone who understands their sexuality in the first place," he says.
"But a kid at 12 or 13… It's like asking someone to give up chocolate having never tasted it. Celibacy has to be a mature, informed choice."
So the trainee Irish priest was frequently faced with a type of 'double whammy' – the forced repression of their emotions, both in society and within the church structures to which they devoted their lives.
They were then expected to be outgoing and sociable as part of their work – something which served only to heighten their sense of isolation when they returned to an empty house.
Many priests found a way around the problems which celibacy can throw up – for example, through maintaining strong relationships with family members. Unfortunately, others did not.
But repression of sexuality, and the development of a culture of obedience, does not in itself explain why so many priests chose to express their frustrated desires in the particularly appalling form of child molestation and rape.
Clearly, the abusers have a large degree of personal culpability for the choices they made, regardless of their background.
In fact, the way in which the products of such a strictly Catholic Irish society chose to express their rage, anger and even sorrow varied hugely. This included alcoholism, gambling and depression, Muldoon notes.
Maeve Lewis, executive director of the victims group One in Four, also emphasises the impact of the strict authoritarian structures in place both in civil society and the Catholic church in Ireland.
She believes this was largely based on disempowering certain groups, for example on the basis of their class, gender or age.
"I think this also generated a complete culture of obedience, or non questioning, and a ruthless suppression of dissent… The response to those who tried to challenge the system was often to simply ridicule them," Lewis says.
As a result, there was a huge lack of transparency or monitoring. And experience tells us that anywhere that has happened, abuses of power take place.
"I do agree that the formation process for priests involved no expression of intimacy within their lives," she says. "They were completely cut off from their family and friends, and were people who had to suppress their emotions while at the same time operating at a very high intellectual level. There was such an emphasis on obedience."
But she argues strongly that the priests were not operating in a vacuum.
"I think as a nation, our attitude to sexuality was, and perhaps still is, very very unhealthy indeed… This was bolstered by a church with a repressive attitude to sexuality. So sexuality was something to be tolerated rather than celebrated."
Another dominant feature of the Catholic church's approach to child abuse has been the hierarchy's practice of 'exporting' its abusing priests to other countries such as the US and Australia.
In his book, An Irish Tragedy: How Sex Abuse By Irish Priests Helped Cripple the Catholic Church, veteran Minneapolis investigative reporter Joe Rigert charts numerous examples of Irish-trained priests who continued their abuse once they reached the so-called land of the free.
Perhaps the most notorious of these was Father Oliver O'Grady, who molested or attempted to molest scores of girls and boys before he was convicted for his crimes in California. But he was far from alone.
According to Rigert, the bishops promised Irish priests nice cars, good pay and a better life compared with the poverty of Ireland.
"By the 1960s, at the peak of the sex-abuse epidemic in America, half the priests and three quarters of the bishops had come from Ireland," he says.
As part of his research, he conducted a detailed analysis of how many of the 716 priests graduating from Carlow seminary between 1950 and 1993 went on to abuse children in the US.
Overall, he estimates that close to 5% of Irish-born priests molested children in that country, a figure which is slightly higher than the 4% of total priests reported by the church itself.
For Rigert, the rigid sexual repression in both Irish society and the priesthood clearly had the opposite of its intended effect, helping to foster bizarre and criminal sexual behaviour such as the sexual abuse of children.
But according to victims of abuse by 'exported' Irish priests, there are other possible explanations for priests' transfer abroad, and their getting away with it for so long.
"It's pretty clear that minority Catholics – and for decades, Irish Catholics here were a minority – tend to trust priests more, believe abuse reports less, and contact church officials, not criminal officials, when they are able to take action," says David Clohessy, national director of the US-based Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap). "So priests from minority Catholic communities – years ago, the Irish, now Hispanics and others – tend to get by with abuse longer."
Interestingly, Clohessy cites evidence in the US which indicates that up to 10% of priests molest children, irrespective of age, race, national origin, or other factors.
As a result, he suggests that it is not so clear if Irish priests were more or less likely than others to abuse.
"There's no real evidence to suggest that priests in urban areas molest more than priests in rural areas, or better-educated priests molest more than less-educated priests," he says.
"Unless independent evidence proves otherwise, the only rational conclusion is that a certain percentage of the men who enter the priesthood are, or become, sexually deviant and do so in nearly every diocese across the globe."
So have the conditions which helped to foster Ireland's paedophile priests really changed?
With the vastly altered attitudes to the Catholic church which persist in post-Celtic tiger Ireland, surely such abuse is a thing of the past?
Not necessarily so, according to the senior clergyman charged with overseeing the state's national seminary at Maynooth.
"I believe people everywhere would strenuously hope and pray that a rock-solid guarantee could be given that no priest would abuse in the future," Monsignor Hugh Connolly, president of St Patrick's College, told the Sunday Tribune. "This is the goal which we keep constantly before us and which we strive to achieve."
"While it is not possible for anyone to honestly say today that a particular category of person or profession will never offend in the future, it is our solemn commitment in St Patrick's College to implement those policies and measures which will make such abuse an ever-less-likely reality in the future."
Asked what role, if any, celibacy plays in contributing to sexual perversion such as paedophilia, Connolly says there is an important "sacrificial dimension" to celibacy.
"If a candidate does not value his sexuality as a good thing, then his celibacy does not make sense," he says. "What we know today is that a person who is disposed to abuse will seek to abuse. Celibacy does not alter this fact."
The training offered to priests has developed significantly in recent years, according to Connolly.
For example, candidates at Maynooth undergo continuous assessment, including psychological screening, to ensure their suitability for the role.
They also take classes or workshops on topics such as sexuality and psychosexual integration, chastity and celibacy embodiment, and "ministerial identity and ministerial boundaries".
Attention is similarly paid to "warning flags" which may be raised by observers both within and outside the seminary.
"All of this means that an effective 'screening' programme is in place today," says Connolly.
"That said, there is no failsafe test to identify unsuitable candidates, and so we must commit and continuously re-commit to be aware of and to implement best practice at all times."
Others, however, have questioned the effectiveness of this approach.
Writing in the Irish Catholic last year, UCD academic and therapist Dr Marie Keenan claimed the idea that psychological screening will reduce offending by clergy is built on an "assumption that clergy who sexually abuse children are psychologically disturbed".
She argued that, while they are of course culpable for their actions, such an analysis risks ignoring the role of the institution that is the Catholic church itself.
Research conducted by her, involving interviews with priest abusers, indicates that the church is "pretty expert at ignoring problems... in its clergy, and has a fairly well-perfected culture of denial and silence", she said.
Many of those who abuse have been poorly trained for celibacy, she added, and are not sufficiently supported in their ministry by the church.
"Sometimes it is easier to tinker with a problem at the edges than to address its core elements," she wrote.
Snap's David Clohessy goes even further.
He believes the structures of the Catholic hierarchy remain fundamentally the same, despite recent changes.
"Only the most naïve would believe that centuries-old patterns of selfishness and recklessness by an ancient, rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy could or would be suddenly reversed, especially because the root cause of the crisis – unchecked power by bishops – remain unaddressed," he says.
As we prepare to read the findings of the Dublin archdiocese report, and more specifically its analysis of the role of the Dublin-based bishops, his assertion is worth remembering.