Ireland unveils long-awaited report on Catholic child abuse

published on May 20, 2009

The long wait is finally over today for thousands of Irishmen and women who suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of Catholic nuns, priests and monks inside state-sponsored children’s institutions.
A decade has almost passed since the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was established after the Irish Government was shamed by a television documentary series into apologising to victims and promising inquiries and compensation.
Today the commission will unveil the fruits of its labours; a 3,500-word report running to five volumes which cost 70 million euros to compile, amid claims that its work was often secretive and controversial.
Its first chief resigned in 2003 in protest at the lack of cooperation she was receiving from a government department.
Mr Justice Sean Ryan, who was appointed a High Court judge on the day he took over the commission’s work, will be tested today on his pledge five years ago that his inquiry would “analyse and understand and explain what happened in the past”.
But even before publication some victims groups believe the final report will be flawed and are unhappy that they have been denied pre-publication copies. At today’s launch in Dublin no questions will be taken from the media.
While the commission has previously ruled out identifying specific abusers – in spite of the mountain of testimony taken from victims – who have not already been convicted of their crimes – the scale of the report is likely to reopen many wounds and further undermine the moral authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Many of the grimmest stories are by now well-known, told over a decade in which attendance at Mass has plunged, although the bells of the Angelus call to prayer still ring out twice daily on the state broadcaster RTÉ.
An interim report published in 2003 provided a glimpse inside a house of horrors, with hundreds of internees at “industrial schools” describing “being beaten on every part of their body”; some of these beatings being administered in front of onlookers with the victim stripped naked.
Sexual abuse of minors was commonly linked with violence, the report said, and “ranged from detailed interrogation about sexual activity, inspection of genitalia, kissing, fondling of genitalia, masturbation of witness by abuse and vice versa, oral intercourse, rape and gang rape”. Some of the victims experienced abuse throughout their time in the care of religious orders.
Among the orders investigated were the Sisters of Mercy, which was responsible for the largest number of children’s institutions including the now notorious Goldenbridge, and the Christian Brothers, who ran institutions for mainly teenage boys such as Artane and Letterfrack.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Sisters of Charity, the Good Shepherd Sisters, the Presentation Brothers and the Poor Clare Sisters are among the orders investigated.
The final report takes into account evidence from some 2,500 people who suffered abuse, although the commission disappointed many victims when it decided to select only a limited number of cases for full hearing, pleading that its case load was simply too large and threatened to overwhelm its capacities.
One group yesterday said that many victims of abuse “will most likely be even more traumatised than ever to learn that, following this lengthy inquiry, there will be no criminal prosecutions brought against their abuser(s), or against those in the hierarchy of the Church / Religious Orders complicit in the brutal crimes against innocent children”.
Irish Survivors of Child Abuse added:”We call upon His Holiness in Rome Pope Benedict XVI to convene a special Consistory Court to fully investigate the activities of the Catholic religious orders in Ireland.”


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