Ireland’s Child Abuse Commission has released its report on the physical and sexual abuse inflicted on thousands of children over the past 70 years by religious and lay staff of institutions caring for disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children.
Responding to the release of the report, the new Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols said the report was “disturbing,” adding that every single incident of abuse in the Catholic Church should be “a scandal” and should never be “a matter of indifference.”
The inquiry has produced findings against 216 facilities, a number that includes both state and religious institutions. The Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers, which ran the largest number of children’s institutions, were among the religious orders investigated.
Institutions run by religious orders examined in the report included industrial and reform schools, institutions for the disabled, orphanages and day schools.
The report said that sexual abuse was endemic in boys’ schools while in girls’ schools children were subjected to predatory abuse by male employees, visitors, and also during outside placements.
The abuse was rarely reported to government authorities. On the occasions the Department of Education was informed, it colluded with religious orders in silence by dismissing or ignoring sexual abuse complaints and never bringing them to the attention of the Garda, the Irish police.
“The risk (to children), however, was seen by the congregations in terms of the potential scandal and bad publicity should the abuse be disclosed,” the report stated.
It said the safety of children “in general was not a consideration.” Religious authorities who had evidence of sexual abuse transferred the alleged offenders to other locations, where they were often free to abuse again.
"At best, the abusers were moved but nothing was done about the harm done to the child. At worst, the child was blamed and seen as corrupted by the sexual activity, and was punished severely," the report found.
Part of the nine year investigation by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse included interviews with 1,090 individuals about the abuse they suffered. The interviews revealed that more than 90 percent of the students who testified suffered physical abuse, while around 50 percent were victims of sexual abuse. The commission found that more than 800 individuals who were involved in carrying out physical or sexual abuse.
Some children were so badly neglected they had to scavenge for food in waste bins and animal feed, while unsupervised bullying also left smaller and weaker children without food.
Archbishop Nichols spoke to ITV News about the report, saying:
“It's very distressing and very disturbing and my heart goes out today first of all to those people who will find that their stories are now told in public... Secondly, I think of those in religious orders and some of the clergy in Dublin who have to face these facts from their past which instinctively and quite naturally they'd rather not look at.
"That takes courage, and also we shouldn't forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did."
The archbishop said those who committed violence and abuse and “abused the trust that was placed in them” should be held to account, “no matter how long ago it happened.”
He said the Catholic Church in England has a “very steady and reliable system” of cooperation with police and social services and said a legal and police process should “absolutely” take place if the offenses demand it.
When ITV asked Archbishop Nichols why abuse seemed more prevalent in the Catholic Church than in other faiths, he answered:
“Every time there is a single incident of abuse in the Catholic Church it is a scandal.
"And I'm glad it's a scandal. I would be very worried if it wasn't a scandal... I hope these things don't happen again but I hope they're never a matter of indifference.”