Church denial of truth over abuse must end
It is time the Catholic Church and its apologists acknowledged the scale of what happened at the Daingean and Lusk reformatories, writes Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent
The most obdurate of the religious congregations which managed residential institutions for children will appear before the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse today. They, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ireland, managed St Conleth's reformatory at Daingean in Co Offaly and Scoil Mhuire in Lusk, Co Dublin. A total of 322 abuse complaints have been made by former residents of both.
Appearing before the committee in May 2005, the congregation's Fr Michael Hughes strongly rejected allegations of serious sexual and physical abuse at Daingean. Concerning allegations of sexual abuse by staff there, he said "immoral, impure conduct", strictly forbidden at the reformatory, "was a problem among the boys".
And on physical abuse? "The punishment was very, very severe, but I feel it would be an injustice to the men of the time to say it was abuse," he said. No punishment books - required by law - had survived from there.
He didn't know why.
He was aware of concerns expressed by members of the Kennedy Committee, which inspected Daingean in 1968, at the administration of corporal punishment to boys' bare buttocks and that the then resident manager Fr McGonagle appeared to accept the value of such punishment as "more humiliating".
Fr McGonagle, he said, had denied acknowledging the added value of such humiliation, though he did not deny boys so punished were naked with their shirts pulled up. Fr Hughes accepted as "an honest statement of what was observed" a 1966 report which said corporal punishment at Daingean was "used frequently. When it is used it is very severe and in my opinion cannot in any circumstances be justified".
He disputed complaints that the boys were not fed properly and disagreed with an internal Department of Education memo which said there was "shameful neglect" of the boys' education and that they were being made use of as labourers.
He disputed findings by the Kennedy Committee on Daingean that the boys were "dirty and unkempt", that showers at Daingean were "rusted and disintegrating" through lack of use, and that toilets were "dirty and unsanitary". He contrasted those Kennedy findings with a "very careful" 1966 report from a Dr Lysaght.
He disagreed with Justice Seán Ryan, chairman of the committee, that it seemed "eccentric" to accept the findings of one report and reject those of the other.
The hearing was also told six Oblate Brothers at Daingean had nervous breakdowns between 1964 and 1969. Fr Hughes agreed men under such stress "might snap and become abusive", though he felt they "were [ now] being treated very unfairly".
Fr Hughes blamed the shortcomings at Daingean on the poor level of State funding. Yet in 1955, after a visit there, the secretary of the Department of Education described Daingean as "Dickensian" and said conditions in which its cows were kept were considerably better than those for the boys. He added: "I am of the opinion that very handsome profits are made on the farm, but I can see no evidence of any of the profits being ploughed back for the benefit of the boys."
You might say, in light of so much documented and objective evidence, that Fr Hughes is somewhat deluded where Daingean is concerned. That is for the commission to decide. But, if so, Fr Hughes is not unique.
Where some bishops, priests and many among the "our-church-right-or-wrong" brigade are concerned there is a similar tendency. For example, they have been using one statistic from the Savi Report (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland), published in 2002 by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, with unseemly regularity for the last four years.
As recently as May 27th, Breda O'Brien trotted it out on these pages in criticism of Vincent Browne. "He is aware that only 3 per cent of sexual abuse is carried out by religious or clergy. Yet how many programmes have focused on the other 97 per cent?" she asked.
That "3 per cent" is in fact 3.2 per cent. The same Savi Report found that 2.5 per cent of abuse was by fathers.
It means that religious or clergy (ie, diocesan priests, priests in religious congregations, and brothers) as a social cohort are more than 1.25 times more likely to abuse than biological fathers.
Indeed, from what is known, there is little to suggest any other relevant social cohort - teachers, social or care workers - reach such levels when it comes to abuse. Ignorance of this, wilful or otherwise, should not be indulged anymore, particularly following the welcome decision by Pope Benedict last month that the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr Marciel Maciel Degollado, be restricted in ministry on foot of allegations of sex abuse spanning decades.
It set a new example where Rome is concerned.
When that decision was announced the legionaries and their lay Regnum Christi movement issued an extraordinary statement.
It said that, following the Pope's decision, Fr Maciel had "declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way". The comparison is odious, perhaps blasphemous.
Delusion hardly comes greater, but in this instance it has been challenged, at last. While some senior figures in the Catholic Church here have shown commendable leadership on this issue it is about time that others, and their apologists, did so too. It is time they followed the example of Pope Benedict, acknowledged the elephant in the sacristy, and dealt with it.