29 Oct 2010

Ireland Braces For Report On Catholic Child Abuse

CBS News - May 19, 2009

Associated Press

Ireland is bracing for a damning report into decades of child abuse at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, which the government long empowered to care for the country's most vulnerable youths.

The government-appointed Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse has spent nine years sifting through thousands of abuse complaints from the country's defunct network of reformatories, workhouses, orphanages and other church-run institutions that served as dumping grounds for children.

Authors of the 2,575-page report being published Wednesday declined to reveal any advance details of their conclusions or recommendations for ensuring such harm is never repeated. The report will cover widespread, pervasive abuse in scores of church-run facilities that housed more than 35,000 children _ most of whom were ordered there because of school truancy or petty crimes _ from 1936 to the mid-1990s.

More than 1,000 abuse victims who testified to the commission typically described soul-crushing childhoods of forced labor, beatings and molestation that could not be reported effectively to anyone in authority. Some of those victims say they feel hopeful now that vindication might finally be at hand.

Christine Buckley, who was one of the first to break silence on the abuse in the early 1990s, said the report's verdict on church and government failings should demonstrate "whether the journey for justice, undertaken by so many and for so long, has at last been successful."

She, like many campaigners, said it was critical that the truth of their brutal childhoods be placed indisputably on the public record after decades of dispute from the Catholic religious orders _ principally the Christian Brothers and Sisters of Mercy nuns _ who ran the bulk of Ireland's 19th century-era industrial schools. Most closed in the 1970s.

Typically, children at such facilities stopped receiving any formal education by age 12. But they kept generating income for the religious orders through their teens with their mandatory, unpaid labor on farms, in laundries and as domestic cleaners.

In Buckley's case, she was consigned to a Dublin orphanage in the late 1950s because she was the child of a single Irish mother and Nigerian father; children born out of wedlock typically were placed for adoption or into state care. All the girls at her former Sisters of Mercy-run home, Goldenbridge, were expected to manufacture 60 rosary necklaces a day or suffer humiliation or beatings.

For decades, children who graduated from the institutions say they were discouraged from speaking out, citing well-documented fears that Irish Catholic society would label them liars.

It took the campaigns of a few pioneering abuse victims, backed by a series of 1990s books and television documentaries that shocked Ireland, to pave the way for the commission's near-decade of digging into a past that religious orders might prefer to stay buried.

"The depth and duration of the abuse endured by our children in these institutions beggars belief," said Maeve Lewis, executive director of an abuse-victims support group called One in Four. Over the past decade it was been influential in exposing abuses and spurring the government into action.

Officials of the Sisters of Mercy, Christian Brothers and more than a dozen other orders implicated in sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children all testified to the commission. None was willing to comment this week in advance of the report's unveiling.

During the commission's investigations, oral evidence was collected from more than 1,000 people chiefly in their 50s to 70s _ several hundred of whom traveled back to Ireland from as far away as the United States and Australia _ who described childhoods of terror and intimidation.

The Christian Brothers delayed the investigation for more than a year with a lawsuit that successfully defended their members' right to anonymity in all rferences in the report _ even in cases where individual Christian Brothers have already been convicted of sexual and physical attacks on children.

The Catholic Church's practice of protecting the sexual predators in their parishes and schools, rather than the children who suffered at their hands, has fanned several waves of outrage in once-devout Ireland starting in the mid-1990s.

The damage done to the church's reputation here has exceeded, in scope and political impact, even what happened in the United States, which suffered its own wave of abuse-coverup scandals in the past decade.

The first major pedophile-priest scandal, in 1994, triggered the collapse of Ireland's government. In 1999 former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern issued an apology for the state's failure over decades to defend children's rights in church-run facilities.

Ahern established both the fact-finding commission and a panel that has already paid out damages averaging nearly euro65,000 ($90,000) each to 12,000 abuse victims. The taxpayer, not the church, has footed most of that bill.

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