Commission on Child Abuse

Today has not been a good day for Ireland. Or rather, what we have had to read today tells a painful, harrowing and terrible story about part of this country’s history. I am referring to the publication of four volumes of reports by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The Commission was established in 1999 by the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to investigate child abuse over a period of time in institutions where children had been placed and were in care. Overwhelmingly these were institutions owned and managed by religious orders of the Roman Catholic Church. Eighteen such orders made contributions to a redress fund that was set up in negotiations with the state, and some of them offered apologies, though in very different terms between them. A general apology was offered by CORI (Conference of Religious of Ireland) in 2002.

The material contained in the report published today is harrowing, detailing physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and emotional abuse. The volumes of the report describe a system of childcare that had ceased to consider the human dignity of the children in care, even where there were no examples of the more extreme abuse. But actual abuse itself was, we now know, widespread. And because nothing was done about any of this, even when it was known, the report describes a society that had allowed itself to be corrupted, and one in which tackling abuse and cruelty was seen as less of a priority than the maintenance of the established order and institutional deference.

I spent a good part of my youth and early adulthood in Ireland, and they were happy times for me. But even for me some of this now looks corrupted by what I am reading, at the very least because I was part of a society that did nothing to protect the most vulnerable. No doubt we will be able to reflect more positively on the country’s history again, but right now this is a terrible moment. And it is certainly not a moment for any equivocation or any attempts to defend the indefensible. Church leaders in particular must assess again how they believe they can or should exercise authority, and on whose behalf they believe they must act in the first instance. The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has been a breath of fresh air in these matters; but others have shown far less understanding of the position they are in. But the church could not have done what it did without the complicity of society in general.

It is time for reflect on who we are and what values we hold.

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16 Comments on “Commission on Child Abuse”

  1. sillyoldtwit Says:

    Martin should be in jail. The dogs in the street knew for years about what was going on and anyone who claims they knew nothing is just lying. The ISPCC refused to co operate with the enquiry in so far as the refused to hand over files..I knew about all this by the time I was ten years of age (fifty years ago )…it was common knowledge…

    These people are all criminals plain and simple. Every Nazi thug in history has insisted that he knew nothing ..and the Catholic Church helped most of the higher Nazi officials flee justice…..

    If there were no Archbishops this would never have happened in the first place..

  2. Vincent Says:

    Reflect, my eye. That report should be sent to each and every household in the State, together with a copy of the Constitution.

    Some years ago I was living in south Dublin, and one Sunday in late Spring went driving on the military roads in the Wicklow mountains. I was coming from the Sally Gap and turned down towards Bray when I first saw the Buildings at the head of Glencree washed in the sunshing. On seeing those buildings a shiver went up my spine. Now I’m nothing of a romantic or nostalgic where buildings are concerned and was slightly shocked at my reaction to this complex.
    After a little research, I discovered that these buildings were formally a place to house boys.
    If I at the distance of a mile and decades pick could up the radiating Evil of the place what sort of Hell must it have been for those there incarcerated.
    Letterfrack has a similar feel. Sort of in the stones, if you know what I mean.

    And this report is only the start, next the Archdiocese of Dublin, and soon.

  3. Vincent Says:

    Any chance you could jump pick over could.


    • Sorry Vincent, what does that mean?

      • Vincent Says:

        Sorry, editing error in my first comment.
        ‘If I at the distance of a mile and decades *pick could* up the radiating Evil of the place what sort of Hell must it have been for those there incarcerated.’ I must write in one of those scribe programs, with the comment box there is an odd size to the line.

  4. Mathieu Says:

    As someone following these news from abroad (France), and as someone deeply in love with Ireland’s history (I did my MA thesis on Charles O’Conor of Belanagare), music, folklore, life, etc. I can only begin to describe how embarassed I am.

    I wonder: how one can explain this paradox the Irishmen are in? How can they be this brave, hearty, warm, wondeful people I’ve met time and time again at each of my visits while being simultaneously under the aegis of a superstitious, corrupted, brutal institution that does not care for the good of its flock but only for its power?

    Yes, I know, I’m prejudiced against the Catholic Church (or any other church for that matter). I’m French, and as such, as half the population here, I was born, raised and grew in a “laïc” background. And my own studies in history did not cast the churches in any favorable light.

    • Mathieu Says:

      As I read my comment, I find it very (too) simplistic. I fell into the old time trap of broad generalizations.

      I suspect not all Irishmen and women are “under the aegis” of the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, it’s true that Ireland boasts a higher percentage of practicing Catholics than most other countries, though I have to admit that I don’t know the exact numbers and would be unable to quote them.

      Religion, religion…

      • AMcCoy Says:

        Mathieu, I would have to disagree with your comment that Ireland boasts a higher percentage of practicing Catholics than most countries. Actually although most Irish would nominally call themsleves Catholics the reality is that fewer and fewer attend weekly Mass. I would argue that the percentage attending Massin countries such as Poland is significantly much higher than in Ireland.

  5. rayyan Says:

    hoping that irish people wont blame the religion for causing that, and jump to conclusion that we need to have separation in between religion and education, as so we refer in secular manner..

    should be clear difference between religion and religion peoples..
    and we must blame the people who misused their authority.

    • Mathieu Says:

      I think to the contrary that any sane country should have a clear and definitive separation between religion and State/ Education/ Health/ Justice…

      The stranghold of religion, any religion, should be removed.

      @ AMcCoy — (I don’t see a “reply” link under your comment, so I answer it here): Maybe attendance of mass is severely dropping in Ireland but it’s remains true nonetheless that Irish society is much more impregnated with Catholic values than France, for instance. For instance, I believe that abortion is still illegal in Ireland, isn’t it? My point is that most countries where the Christian Church (whatever sect it was) held sway for many centuries have to fight a very long and very difficult fight to sever the strangehold I was refering to in the above comment from their collective neck. And, in Ireland, due to the British presence, the Catholic Church became a factor of identity and resistance for many Irishmen and women. So this fight didn’t take place. Maybe now it will.

  6. Jilly Says:

    Without in any way wishing to minimize the issues and problems raised by this report, I think it is important to remember that this isn’t specific to a particular country or religion.

    I went to primary school in the UK, and in an otherwise very happy and caring school (which was entirely secular), there was one teacher who everybody knew was far too interested in little girls. By the age of 7 or so, we all knew to just avoid him: adults also hinted heavily that he should be avoided. But no one ever named the problem or confronted him, that I know of, and certainly he continued to teach there for years.

    There was no issue in this case of Church authority, religious belief or lack of other adults caring for the children: but they trained us to quietly avoid him, rather than deal with the problem. It was a perfect example of a willful collective ignorance and giant silence, but one which took place in an entirely secular context. I often wonder who, among my classmates, might not have managed to avoid him…A grim thought.

    • Mathieu Says:

      As a teacher myself I am deeply concerned about this and I haver to second your comment: for many years in France too this kind of teachers were dealt with a great deal of silence and leniency.

      I believe from my own witnessing that these times are now over.

      Firstly, because of the would-be victims themselves who don’t hesitate to sue and tell about the possible crimes of these kind of teachers.

      Secondly, because of the State who isn’t lenient anymore, most notably following the affairs in pedophilia in the 1990s.

      Now, the problem is more: how to avoid false denounciations?

      And we see that in the media, revelations of pedophilia now concerns much more often the Church (boy scouts notably here in France) than teachers.

  7. PhilH Says:

    There was an article in the guardian, I think, referring to the arab-israeli conflict. It raised the excellent point, that we need to stop this culture upon hearing whatever ‘side’ we ‘support’ committing an atrocity, to immediately point and say, ‘but the other side has done far worse’ – thus deflecting any concept of responsibility, reflection or accountability – as we degenerate events into ‘relative’ terms.

    In relative terms perhaps what happened here is only mildly worse than elsewhere (although I doubt this), the suffering inflicted remains crushingly absolute.

    The point is that this happened, it did devastate far too many lives, and needs to be addressed head on. Perhaps something like a truth and reconciliation commision is required to give victims a forum in which to begin a healing process, particularly given that it would appear that the faustian pact the government struck in 2002 leaves little other avenues open.

    I agree with the author that Dr. Martin has been a relative breath of fresh air, and at odds with cardinal Brady. However the status that the church holds within our community must now be under serious review, if it wasn’t already. A seachange is long overdue in so many areas of society here.

  8. AMcCoy Says:

    I have read and listened to the limited findings of the Commission with something akin to shock, disgust and utter dismay. I would support the many religious who have a genuine interest in educating children, caring for the sick and working for social justice. However, I do think that the Religious superiors, the Dept.of Education and others in positions of responsibility need to admit some accountability and hand these investigations over to the proper authorities An Garda Siochana.

  9. poppy tupper Says:

    There is no justifcation for this sort of abuse; there can be no excuses for it. But there are reasons why people, who start by offering their lives to God, end up abusing children. The main reason is the nature of the church itself and the way it takes over people’s self-awareness. The structures need reforming and renewing. See my website for more details.

  10. Mathieu Says:

    I’d also like to point out several facts.

    Heard on the French radio yesterday, it was said that for years the Catholic Irish Church has tried and managed to block the publication of this report and also that even today it has managed to prevent the names of the victims (that I understand) but also of the perpetrators of these crimes from being revealed.

    So what does that mean?

    It means that the Church, as it has always did, tries to hide the truth of its failings, tries to prevent is fall. It means that the Church isn’t concerned about the well-being of the Christians but by the power it holds over them by maitaining them Christians (and to do that, it has to get a hold of them very soon, school is great for that).

    Now, when the Irish Church says that they are “sorry” and when I confront these excuses to the fact that they have prevented the publication of this report for years, I understand: “We are deeply sorry [that the truth is now finally out but we continue to hide as much as we can and we will find another way to continue just as we did for many centuries. Amen.]”

    Again, I admit I’m biased.


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