Not a few bad apples—an abusive and corrupt orchard

This is an article entitled “Report Details Abuses in Irish Church-Run Reformatories,” written by Sharon Otterman in The New York Times:

A commission investigating child abuse in Ireland’s Roman Catholic-run state orphanages, reformatories and schools released a scathing report on Wednesday, documenting widespread physical, sexual and emotional abuse of thousands of children over 60 years.

Government inspectors failed to stop chronic beatings, rapes and humiliation in the state sponsored institutions. In some schools, the report found, “a high level of ritualized beating was routine.”

The commission, which began its work in 2000, investigated the fate of more than 30,000 children consigned to a network of church-run institutions and schools between the 1920s and the 1980s, when most of them were closed. The Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse investigated complaints from more than 1,700 individuals — many of them now more than 70 years old.

The 2,600-page report, released Wednesday, seems likely to further undercut the moral authority of the Catholic church in a once devout country where attendance at mass has plunged over the last decade. It found that a climate of fear permeated most of the institutions, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment at the hands of priests and nuns. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating or sexual assault was coming from.

“Physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of the institutions,” the report concluded. “Sexual abuse occurred in many of them, particularly boys’ institutions. Schools were run in a severe, regimented manner that imposed unreasonable and oppressive discipline on children and even on staff.”

The nation’s Department of Education, responsible for supervising the schools, failed to protect the children, the report found, deferring to the religious orders running the institutions day-to-day, chiefly the Christian Brothers for boys and the Sisters of Mercy for girls.

“The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the Congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection and monitoring of the schools,” the report said.

The authorities mostly turned a deaf ear to the reports of abuse, particularly sexual predation by priests and inmates in the boys’ institutions, even when the victims came to them with complaints, the commission said.

“The management did not listen to or believe children when they complained of the activities of some of the men who had responsibility for their care,” the commission found. “At best, the abusers were moved, but nothing was done about the harm done to the child. At worst, the child was blamed and seen as corrupted by the sexual activity, and was punished severely.”

The commission, headed by an Irish judge, Sean Ryan, took nine years to release its findings because of delays from church lawsuits, missing documentation and alleged government obstruction. Its original chairwoman, Judge Mary Laffoy, resigned in 2004 after what she said was obstruction by the Education Department. Critics of the commission say the department never fully cooperated with the investigation.

Children were committed to the network of reformatories for infractions as minor as truancy and petty theft, while others, such as unwed teenage mothers and the children of unwed mothers, were sent there by their families. The government paid 27 church orders to run the more than 250 institutions covered by the report.

Many of the 30,000 children ordered into the system had no access to education, and were instead forced to work as virtual prisoners until age 16, victims of the abuse have testified.

John Kelly, the coordinator of the Irish organization, Survivors of Child Abuse, spent 1965 to 1967 in the Daingean reformatory after he was accused of stealing a bar of chocolate as a young teenager. He said he suffered sexual and physical abuse.

“The state abdicated responsibility for the children, they said these people could do what they like,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “And that’s exactly what they did.”

“I feel angry and bitter that we feel deceived and cheated. There is no closure from this report.”

Prime Minister Bertie Ahern authorized the inquiry after issuing an apology in 1999 on behalf of the Irish state to thousands of orphans and other children who were abused in the institutions. It was established as a truth-finding body, with the intention of finding ways for survivors to best deal with their wounds.

The report does not name the accused because of a lawsuit from the Christian Brothers, the religious order than ran many of the boy’s reformatories. Many of the accused priests, brothers and nuns are long dead.

In 2003, a different government-appointed board authorized government compensation for the child victims of the schools as part of a controversial government-church deal in which the taxpayer, rather than church authorities, footed most of the bill. That committee has distributed almost $1.5 billion in compensation and legal fees to 12,500 people, and 2,000 claims remain pending.

The commission struggled largely unsuccessfully to secure cooperation from the 27 religious orders and the Education Department, which possesses most of the school, reformatory, workhouse and orphanage records. In the end, it went largely on the testimony of a large number of victims, which it found credible.

The commission said in 2004 that only two orders had fully cooperated with the investigation. It said others demanded proof from victims for all allegations, making the commission’s work “more protracted and costly than it should be.”

During the commission’s investigations, hundreds of children held in the system traveled back to Ireland from as far away as the United States and Australia to describe childhoods of terror and intimidation.

The commission leaves open the question of whether individual government officials or inspectors, as well as the members of religious orders who committed the abuse, should be prosecuted.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Reminds me of one of my favourite movies: The Magdalene Sisters. Have you seen it?

  2. Yes indeed. However, some of the Magdalene “inmates” and others familiar with that atrocity have said that the Magdalene asylums were in fact much worse than the movie made them out to be. Apparently the film-makers used a light touch.

  3. I didn’t know that…but I’m not surprised, really.


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