A FIERCELY debated, long-delayed investigation into Ireland’s Roman Catholic-run institutions says priests and nuns terrorised thousands of boys and girls in workhouse-style schools for decades – and government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rapes and humiliation.
Nine years in the making, today’s 2,600-page report sides almost completely with the horrific reports of abuse from former students sent to more than 250 church-run, mostly residential institutions. But victims’ leaders said it didn’t go far enough.
Furthermore, its findings will not be used for criminal prosecutions – in part because the Christian Brothers successfully sued the commission in 2004 to keep the identities of all of its members, dead or alive, unnamed in the report.
Ironically, the report was issued on the same day that the Pope, in his weekly audience in Rome, encouraged young Catholics to make better use of the internet to “spread the church’s message”.
The Irish report – one of the most widely-read stories on the internet today -concluded that church officials always shielded their orders’ abusers from arrest to protect their own reputations and, according to documents uncovered in the Vatican, knew that many paedophiles were serial attackers.
The investigators said overwhelming, consistent testimony from still-traumatised men and women, now in their 50s to 80s, had demonstrated beyond a doubt that the entire system treated children more like prison inmates and slaves than people with legal rights and human potential.
The final report of Ireland’s Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse concluded:
A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from.
The leader of Ireland’s four million Catholics, Cardinal Sean Brady, and religious orders at the centre of the scandal offered immediate apologies.
I am profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways in these institutions. Children deserved better and especially from those caring for them in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Sisters of Mercy, which ran several refuges for girls where the report documented chronic brutality, said in a statement that its nuns:
Accept that many who spent their childhoods in our orphanages or industrial schools were hurt and damaged while in our care. There is a great sadness in all of our hearts at this time and our deepest desire is to continue the healing process for all involved.
And the Rev Edmund Garvey, spokesman for the Christian Brothers order that once ran dozens of boys’ schools, said that reading the report’s “presentation of the history of our institutions, it is hard to avoid feeling shame.”
More than 30,000 children deemed to be petty thieves, truants or from dysfunctional families – a category that often included unmarried mothers – were sent to Ireland’s austere network of industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages and hostels from the 1930s until the last church-run facilities shut in the 1990s.
The report, unveiled by High Court Justice Sean Ryan, found that molestation and rape were “endemic” in boys’ facilities, chiefly run by the Christian Brothers, and supervisors pursued policies that increased the danger. Girls supervised by orders of nuns, chiefly the Sisters of Mercy, suffered much less sexual abuse but frequent assaults and humiliation designed to make them feel worthless.
The report said:
In some schools a high level of ritualized beating was routine. … Girls were struck with implements designed to maximize pain and were struck on all parts of the body. Personal and family denigration was widespread.
Victims of the system have long demanded that the truth of their experiences be documented and made public.
But several victims – who were prevented from attending Wednesday’s report launch and scuffled with police outside a central Dublin hotel – said the report didn’t go far enough and rejected the church leaders’ apologies as insincere.
Said John Kelly, a former inmate of a Dublin industial school who fled to London and today leads a pressure group called Irish Survivors of Child Abuse:
Victims will feel a small degree of comfort that they’ve been vindicated. But the findings do not go far enough.
He added that any apologies offered now were:
Hollow, shallow and have no substance or merit at all. We feel betrayed and cheated today.
The report proposed 21 ways the government could recognize past wrongs, including building a permanent memorial, providing counseling and education to victims and improving Ireland’s current child protection services.
Irish church leaders and religious orders all declined to comment today, citing the need to read the massive document first. The Vatican also declined to comment.
You can read the full report here.