Tens of thousands of Irish children were sexually, physically and emotionally abused by nuns, priests and others over 60 years in a network of church-run residential schools meant to care for the poor, the vulnerable and the unwanted, according to a report released in Dublin on Wednesday.The report does not give the names of either the acuused or of the victims, and was delayed "because of a lawsuit brought by the Christian Brothers, the religious order that ran many of the boys’ schools and that fought, ultimately successfully, to have the abusers’ names omitted."
The 2,600-page report paints a picture of institutions run more like Dickensian orphanages than 20th-century schools, characterized by privation and cruelty that could be both casual and choreographed.
“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions,” the report says. In the boys’ schools, it says, sexual abuse was “endemic.”
From Times (London) columnist Ruth Gledhill:
'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 found that molestation and rape were “endemic; in boys’ facilities, chiefly run by the Christian Brothers. 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. “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,” the report said.Gledhilll notes that the Christian Brothers lawsuit to strip the report of all identifying information was won in 2004.
“Personal and family denigration was widespread.” Victims of the system have long demanded that the truth of their experiences be documented and made public, so that children in Ireland never endure such suffering again. But most leaders of religious orders have rejected the allegations as exaggerations and lies, and testified to the commission that any abuses were the responsibility of often long-dead individuals. Wednesday’s five-volume report sides almost completely with the former students’ accounts.
It concludes that church officials encouraged ritual beatings and consistently shielded their orders’ paedophiles from arrest amid a culture of self-serving secrecy.
“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 report concluded.
What are we to make of this? Again, as I have written elsewhere, the problem must surely lie in the monarchical orientation of the Church's hierarchy--institutionalism crowding out the loving concern that is meant to animate the Church in its dealings with all people. When hierarchy, pomp, and self-righteousness crowd out the sense of service--or, to put it more bluntly, when "Christian" means cruelty, well, as we say on the Internet,"Ur doin it wrong." Pride is fostered by power and deference, and suffocates self knowledge. And, as C.P. Snow wrote in The Light and the Dark (1948), that self-knowledge, stripped of arrogance s crucial to those who hold power. Here's Snow's stand-in Lewis Eliot, debating the balance of power in 1937 with a young Nazi:
"No one is fit to be trusted with power," I said..."No one. I should not like to see any group of men in charge--not me or my friends or anyone else. Any man who has lived at all knows the follies and wickedness he's capable of. If he does not know it, he is not fit to govern others. And if he does know it, he knows also that neither he nor any man ought to be allowed to decide a single human fate, Ian mot speaking of you specially, you understand; I should say exactly the same of myself.The Light and the Dark pp. 148-149.
Our eyes met. I was certain, as one can be certain in a duel across the table, that for the first time he took me seriously.
"You do not think highly of men, Mr. Eliot."
"I am one."
That self-knowledge seems utterly lacking in the Roman Catholic hierarchy.