The shocking scale of sexual and physical abuse in educational institutions in Ireland run by the Catholic Church was revealed on Wednesday in a report describing how thousands of children were raped, abused and exploited by the religious brothers and nuns who were supposed to look after them.
The 2,600-page report by Ireland’s Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse found that rape was “endemic” for decades at more than 250 Irish Catholic care institutions from the 1930s to the 1990s, and that the Church in Ireland had protected pedophiles in its ranks from arrest.
“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,” it said.
Children in industrial schools and reformatories were treated like convicts and slaves, it said. Rape was particularly common in boys homes and industrial schools run by the Christian Brothers.
John Kelly of the group the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA) described the failure of the report to recommend criminal prosecutions as a complete whitewash.
The report confirmed allegations from thousands of former students at the institutions. The Ryan Commission said that beatings in institutions run by both priests and nuns were commonplace.
It also criticized the failure of the Irish state, most notably the Department of Education, over allowing the abuse and exploitation to continue for decades.
The department aided this culture “through infrequent, toothless inspectors” that always deferred to the Church’s authority, the report said.
The commission proposed 21 ways the Irish government could recognize past wrongs, including building a permanent memorial, providing counseling and education to victims and improving child protection services.
Meanwhile, the new leader of Catholics in England and Wales provoked outrage after describing members of the clergy who admitted to abusing children as courageous for facing up to their past.
In an interview broadcast on Wednesday night, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols said of the report: “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,” he said.