The Irish Catholic Church and child abuse: It’s not about “bad apples”
By mór rígan Posted on May 25, 2009
It is public knowledge that the Catholic Church ruled the roost in Ireland. The Church’s education system was harsh and children in school were beaten. The allegations of child sexual abuse were proved true and compensation was provided – ten percent coming from the Catholic Church and ninety percent from the state.
An investigation commission was set up in 2000 to hear from persons who allege they suffered abuse in childhood, in institutions, during the period from 1940 or earlier, to the present day; to conduct an inquiry into abuse of children in institutions during that period and, where satisfied that abuse occurred, to determine the causes, nature, circumstances and extent of such abuse; and to prepare and publish reports on the results of the inquiry and on its recommendations in relation to dealing with the effects of such abuse.The report of the Commission was published on 20 May. The revelations contained therein are obscene:
Children were enslaved, raped, tortured and abused systematically in both residential and day schools, and institutions. What is more, complaints were made to the clergy, police and the state and the complainants were ignored and humiliated.
The report covers children in industrial and reformatory schools, orphanages, laundries, foster care, hospitals, disability centres and novitiates. The vast majority of children were committed to industrial or reformatory schools from 1936 to 1970 because they were ‘needy’. Other reasons of commitment were involvement in a criminal offense or school nonattendance. Involvement in a criminal offense included girls who had been ‘morally corrupted’. In fact, girls as young as eight who had been raped or abused, or even those children in contact with such girls, were considered unsuitable for an ordinary industrial school and were sent to reformatoriesinstead.
Siblings were separated. Children were shamed and told that their parents were dead or that they had been abandoned. Parents and grandparents had great difficulty accessing their children and complaints made on their behalf were ignored. There were marked differences in the treatment of those with parents and those without.
The children had to contend with neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse:
“I don’t know why I was there, where I was before, who sent me there … no idea what happened.’… I didn’t know I had sisters until I was over 10 or so … I wasn’t even told they …(X and Y)… were my sisters, I thought they were just other girls that were in there like me.” [source]
“She …(Sr X)… literally took off your underwear and got one of the bigger girls to hold your hands and another held your legs and literally walloped you until you were bleeding and you were hot and sticky and you went to bed and slept that off if you could. … (It would)… leave bumps on you.” [source]
“He …X… got us back to his house, said he had a sandwich for us. After that he used to follow me around the place, the nuns would have to be blind not to see this. He threatened to burn down the School and threatened to kill my sisters, so you went to bed at night petrified, thinking he was going to break in and burn down the School. You were just petrified, so if I didn’t go to his house, this is what he would do, burn down the School and kill my sisters. He …(witness described anal rape)… several time over years …crying…. It stays with you, it sticks in my mind, and the threat to burn down the School.” [source]
“The girls from the workhouse …(orphans)… they were treated worse, they suffered worse. … When we were out for a walk we would bring them back bits of chewing gum and haws that we found on the hedges and on the ground, we were all so hungry and they didn’t get out. … (Orphans)… clothes were different, big patched knickers, boots with no soles in them.” [source]
These children were tortured and enslaved by the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the state failed to supervise or protect them. The state indemnified the Church against civil prosecution and is still fighting survivors in the courts.
It is clear that people knew what was happening. Children were threatened with being sent away for complaining. Even within the schools there was always somewhere worse to go.
Those who stood by and let it happen are just as guilty. As a nation, we have to stand up and admit that we were complicit.
It is time to admit the full extent of what happened and seek convictions for the perpetrators. The words of President McAleese – “it was an atrocious betrayal of love” – are mealy-mouthed and underplay the obscene treatment of children in the state’s care. The idea that this was just a few bad apples is surfacing in several quarters, but the report makes it clear that the abuse was systematic and pervasive.
According to the Irish Times, “none of the 18 religious congregations that were party to the redress agreement with the Government seven years ago has any plans to look again at its terms.”
Despite the report, the congregations are unwilling to provide restitution. This is hardly surprising considering that every attempt to expose their crimes has been blocked, objected to and denounced. The Christian Brothers even tried to block the publication of the report. Their statement of regret was not an apology. Every aspect of the church’s participation in the exposing of these crimes has been forced. There is too much emphasis on the “bad apples” defense.
What is important now is what we do with the information. There are apologies to be made – full, frank apologies with admission of guilt. Then there is restitution to the survivors.
We have to put a name to what happened to the children in care. These acts by religious congregations were crimes against children and crimes against humanity. Having identified the acts as crimes, the individuals do not get the protection of the cloth that hitherto they have enjoyed. The justice system must name and prosecute the perpetrators.
The Catholic church has to own up to its criminal responsibilities. Then, all assets should be frozen and confiscated by the state. All church officials should be removed from public life and there needs to be a complete separation of church and state. Once they have repaid financially and served time for their crimes, the named congregations should no longer have the right to serve in Ireland.