You'd hear the younger ones screaming during the night, the twelve and thirteen year olds. There was a night watchman who used to patrol the dormitories with an ash plant on his shoulder. You'd see him constantly bringing down that stick onto a boy in a bed with his full force, about five or six times. There were an awful lot of priests and brothers there in my time. The priests were unimpeachable, they beat the boys with complete impunity. No one ever interfered.

Location: Ireland

The Ryan Report I hold fast to the view that there must be no more deals, secret or otherwise done between Religious orders and the Government of Ireland without indepth consultation with people who were abused while in the care of religious orders or the state.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Oblates' role in running Daingean

Madam, - Patsy McGarry's disgraceful "lambasting" of the Oblates whom he described as the most "obdurate" of religious congregations (June 6th), met with a most tempered and admirable rebuff by Breda O'Brien (June 10th).

I don't know if Mr McGarry ever visited Daingean or has in fact ever met an Oblate priest or brother in his life or knows anything about the humanitarian work they do in some of the poorest places in the world.

My own experience of the Oblates, gained from my youth growing up in Daingean in the 1960s together with a four-year stint with them as a student for the priesthood (1972-76) gave me some insight into what exactly went on - and didn't go on - in the "reformatory".

I was aghast at the tenor of Mr McGarry's diatribes. He appears totally oblivious to the reality that in the 1960s, in schools throughout Ireland, corporal punishment was administered to some children, to a degree which, if it had occurred in St Conleth's (Daingean), would have resulted in a far greater number of abuse claims against the Oblates.

In particular, I found Mr McGarry's personal onslaught on Fr Hughes - a Welshman with no axe to grind with anyone - hard to take. I had the privilege of knowing him as a kind and most caring man throughout my four years with the Oblates.

He was also on the staff at Milltown Park Institute of Philosophy and Theology, Ranelagh, where Oblate students, together with other religious attended. To add insult to injury the startling photo used does a grave injustice to Fr Hughes.

Ms O'Brien got it right when she stated that a fuller picture of what happened behind the scenes included a horrendous amount of "buck-passing between various government departments" - some things never change! All Oblates, their families and friends - are indeed "deeply hurt by the one-sided and damning media portrayal" of their best efforts in circumstances and times a world removed from the 20/20 vision of today. - Yours, etc,

JH, RL, Leixlip, Co Kildare.

© 2006 The Irish Times

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Priest condemned committal system

Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

A letter sent in 1971 by the resident manager at Daingean reformatory in Co Offaly to the Garda Commissioner, in which he threatened to refuse admission to boys sent there, was described yesterday as a cri de coeur by Justice Sean Ryan of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse.

Fr William McGonagle had asked for a week's notice before the arrival of any boy.

Earlier yesterday, a hearing of the commission's investigation committee, which Justice Ryan chairs, was told Fr McGonagle had described the manner of committal by the courts of boys to Daingean as "a monstrous arrangement". He made the comments in a letter to his superior in the late 1960s.

Boys would arrive from the courts "at all hours of the day or night" while accompanying gardaí had "not a clue" about the boys' past history. He contrasted the situation with that operating in England where boys were assessed in advance as to their suitability for particular schools.

What was happening at Daingean "must stop", he had said, as "no constructive rehabilitation can be initiated" in such circumstances.

James Martin, assistant secretary at the Department of Justice, Equality, and Law Reform, who was giving evidence, agreed it was "certainly not a desirable situation".

Colm Ó hOisín, for the Oblate congregation which managed Daingean, said that in March 1971 Fr McGonagle had written to the Department of Education saying he would accept only those boys who would benefit from the treatment programmes available there.

Such was the situation then that boys were confusing the role of Brothers, asking "is he a Brother or a screw?"

Repressive measures were the order of the day for the purpose of containment, "the result of a take-all policy", he had said. He recalled that among the boys were the "violent, the emotionally disturbed, the psychotic".

He stated in the letter: "No one gave a second thought to the problem as long as [ Daingean] took all." It was "a pure outrage".

Mr Martin pointed out that Daingean was the only institution to which such young offenders could be referred.

He agreed with Mr Ó hOisín that the department should have been more pro-active in ensuring young offenders were sent to places of detention suited to their mental and medical capacities.

Later in his evidence he agreed that a very heated row between then minister for education Padraig Faulkner and minister for justice Desmond O'Malley over Marlborough House remand centre in 1971 delayed resolution of the problem.

The hearing was also told reforms by ministers for justice Charles Haughey and Brian Lenihan in the 1960s were frustrated by slow responses from the Department of Education.

A journalist, John Cooney, religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Independent , is seeking an apology from a solicitor representing the Christian Brothers at today's session of the investigation committee of the commission.

This follows comments made by the solicitor at yesterday's hearing about the journalist and a book he had written.

© 2006 The Irish Times

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Scapegoating not the way to uncover the truth

Breda O'Brien

'We like our scapegoats, we like our simple stories," Prof Hannah McGee said last week while talking about the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report.

Her point was that it would be easier for us all if there were clearly identifiable groups in society that were responsible for most sexual abuse. Instead, the stark reality is that it is so pervasive as to be almost beyond comprehension. She also said that when it comes to religious/clerical abusers and biological fathers, that people tend to believe that the prevalence rate is much higher in these two categories because of the abhorrence they feel. All abuse is horrendous, yet undeniably, there is a higher level of revulsion when either a father, or someone promoting a high moral code, breaches trust in such a criminal fashion.

She was essentially reiterating what she said in a September 2003 interview with Sarah McDonald in The Irish Catholic. People seize on the figure from the report, that 3.2 per cent of abuse is perpetrated by clerical and religious abusers. Given that people in religious life are a tiny minority of the population, they extrapolate that this figure of 3.2 per cent must prove a greater propensity among clergy to abuse. Not so, Prof McGee says.

The report identified that 3.2 per cent of victims had been abused by a religious minister or a religious teacher. It did not identify the percentage of clerical abusers. In theory, this entire figure could be accounted for by a "small number of very active abusers".

In other words, you cannot take the figure of 3.2 per cent and say that it represents the number of clergy who abuse, because clergy and religious sadly had more access to children and each abuser was likely to have numerous victims. When Prof McGee spoke about this issue earlier this week, it was on a sensitively handled radio programme chaired by Vincent Browne that concentrated on the "other" 96.8 per cent of sexual abuse. Astute readers may notice that this is the same Vincent Browne that I took a highly personalised swipe at two weeks ago. I claimed that he was wrong to fulminate about the unique hypocrisy of the Catholic Church in relation to sexual abuse and complained that he did not make programmes about the other 96.8 per cent.

As well as my intemperate tone, I failed to acknowledge that Vincent has probably done more than any other commentator to keep the 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report in the public eye, and for that I am sorry.

"We like our scapegoats, we like our simple stories."

These words echoed in my mind this week in relation to another news story, that of the Oblate Order's testimony about Daingean at the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. I had a very peripheral involvement with Daingean. Six years ago, while still writing for the Sunday Business Post, I was approached by a retired civil servant named Risteard Mac Conchradha. He had been a member of the Kennedy committee whose 1970 report signalled the beginning of the end for industrial schools. He wanted me to write about the horrors he and others had uncovered in Daingean. He had doggedly sought the closure of the reformatory, then for more than 30 years sought to publicise the harm that he felt was done to helpless and vulnerable children. When he retired, he felt free to paint a fuller picture of what happened behind the scenes, including an unflattering portrait of buck-passing between various government departments.

For some people, I would probably seem an odd choice to write such an article. Indeed, this very week, it was implied that my well-known Catholic faith commitment has so clouded my vision as to lay me open to the charge of being an apologist for sexual abuse of children by clergy. Thankfully, that was not how Risteard saw me. When he visited Daingean with others from the Kennedy committee, what they found appalled him. Conditions were Dickensian. The boys had been committed for everything from robbing orchards to stabbings; some were exceptionally difficult to handle. After a tip-off from a lay teacher, the priest in charge, Fr Willie MacGonagle, was questioned about punishment practices and freely admitted that any boy who had committed a misdemeanour during the day was called out at night from an over-crowded dormitory. He was then leathered on the bare buttocks in the presence of other boys. Later, Risteard was shocked that a visiting committee could have uncovered such a practice so easily but that the Department of Education, which was charged with inspection, could deny knowledge of such a practice.

Afterwards, and perhaps even more oddly given my original article on Daingean, I was approached by the Oblates to help Fr MacGonagle put his version of events together. Risteard, who is now dead, was a person of utmost integrity and utterly credible. I discovered that Fr MacGonagle, far from being a monster, is a man struggling to come to terms with his stewardship of Daingean. As a matter of verifiable record, he had been a progressive reformer who sought to humanise conditions for the boys, but was frustrated at every turn by public and State indifference. Those who are trying to highlight the desperate plight of some 300 asylum-seeking children who have simply disappeared from our system, to who knows what awful fate, will understand and perhaps empathise with how difficult it is to effect change for those that society considers of little value.

Fr MacGonagle is deeply hurt by the one-sided and damning media portrayal of the efforts of himself and others. He said to me: "It was taken as read and written down in stone that we were stone-age people with stone-age hearts who gloated and feasted on the sensitivities of other people." Incidentally, Risteard could not be blamed for this one-sided portrayal. He was always more nuanced and careful not to issue blanket condemnations.

Perhaps even writing this article will just lay me open to the charge once again of being an apologist for the indefensible. I suppose I will just have to rely on the innate fairness in people and their ability to see that simple stories and scapegoating, rarely if ever portray the messy complexity of human life.

© 2006 The Irish Times

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

'Living hell' reformatory claim rejected

Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

To describe the reformatory at Daingean, Co Offaly, as "a living hell" was to paint a completely false picture, the investigation committee of the Child Abuse Commission was told yesterday.

Fr Michael Hughes, archivist with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation which managed the St Conleth's reformatory, was responding to questions from Tim O'Leary, counsel for some former residents.

Fr Hughes had spent two summers briefly involved with supervision at Daingean.

The commission received 322 abuse complaints from former residents at St Conleth's and at Scoil Ard Mhuire at Oberstown, Lusk, Co Dublin, also managed by the Oblate congregation.

In his evidence yesterday Fr Hughes agreed there had been management failures at Daingean, that corporal punishment had been "unreasonably severe" and that peer sexual abuse was likely, but he did not accept it was widespread.

As to sexual abuse of boys by Brothers at Daingean, he accepted there was "evidence of some" though he was not saying he accepted the evidence given.

He said there was no awareness of such a possibility at the time. The fact was, in society then, people "didn't have the slightest idea it (sexual abuse of young people by adults) existed."

It was "not on people's minds in those days," he said, and noted books on family law at the time hadn't a chapter on it. "I am not a native of Ireland. I was a newcomer to this country. I thought you were all saints," he said.

He agreed with Mr O'Leary that in private hearings before the committee he had heard allegations by former residents of rape, forced oral sex, and voyeurism on the part of one Brother. Asked if he had been shocked by these, he said he had read the written complaints so he could not say he was shocked as he had heard them before.

As to whether hearing the allegations made personally had an emotional effect on him he replied that he "was not a very emotional person . . . it was, naturally, very unpleasant."

He was queried by Mr O'Leary on "the concept of the gobbler's cup" whereby boys in Daingean "would bark out the name of a person subject to (sexual) abuse and mark his cup . . . as nobody wanted to drink out of the gobbler's cup". Fr Hughes agreed it was unlikely that was made up.

On evidence of physical abuse he felt that some of it was "credible and some I think was exaggerated". He believed very few Brothers kept their own straps and did not accept that one Brother's evidence to the committee that he had his own strap for 21 years until it was stolen by a boy, was evidence the situation at Daingean was not controlled.

He accepted one former resident had said he had been beaten with a leather 140 times on one occasion at Daingean and that this involved five different Brothers. However he didn't have the discipline books to check this. He believed, from evidence to the committee private hearings and from talking to Brothers, that punished boys received between two and six straps at a time, when punished.

He agreed there were gangs and a hierarchy among the boys with newcomers known as "fish". He did not agree it was a situation which got out of control, though there were disturbances at times. "Discipline at the school was very severe for that very purpose, so staff could keep control. It was intended as protection for the children . . . these lads were not small boys."

He agreed the Brothers worked all year around, seven days a week with no day off until the 1970s, and that 20 of them were responsible for 150 boys.

© 2006 The Irish Times

Order apologises to former residents

Patsy McGarry

In his evidence to the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse yesterday, Father Michael Hughes, for the Oblate congregation, acknowledged shortcomings in their management at Daingean reformatory and apologised "unreservedly" for suffering caused to former residents there by excessive physical punishment and some sexual abuse.

He said: "It is now clear that there were management failures. In very many cases those failures were because we did not have sufficient resources at our disposal.

"Perhaps with hindsight we should have faced the fact and withdrawn from participation in the institution."

The congregation "operated a system put together and sponsored financially by the State. They did their best with the meagre resources available to them. The resources were seriously deficient," he said.

"The school buildings were old and unsuitable. The school lacked elementary facilities such as decent classrooms. It was starved of capital and income. As a consequence, education and training programmes were very limited."

He continued: "Failures at management level did not impact only on the boys. They also seriously affected the Oblates working in the school.

"It is a tragedy that men who gave so much of their lives to this work should in the last decade have been characterised in such a blanket way as abusers."

On complaints of physical and sexual abuse, he said it was for the commission to make its findings but the Oblates "condemn without reservation any such acts. We point out, however, the very serious difficulties in coming to conclusions in this regard."

Accused staff still living deny any wrongdoing while many accused staff were dead and could not defend themselves, Father Hughes said.

"If the commission makes findings that there were instances of sexual abuse, we acknowledge that the consequences for the boys affected are incalculable. Based on the facts presented we do not believe there was evidence of widespread sexual abuse.

"The infliction of excessive corporal punishment would have had serious psychological effects for the boys. We accept and do not contest that the punishment as described by some of the complaints in Phase 2 (the private hearings) was unreasonably severe," Father Hughes said.

"We acknowledge that punishment for activities such as attempting to escape from the reformatory was excessive. Corporal punishment was, however, standard practice in primary and secondary schools for much of the 20th century."

He pointed out that "the State not only sanctioned corporal punishment with straps and birches, but also provided regulations for its use.

"Corporal punishment did not become illegal in Irish schools until 1982, more than a decade after its total abolition by the Oblates in Daingean reformatory."

He said the boys at Daingean stood very low in the State's priorities. The poverty at the reformatory was a choice society made, he added.

© 2006 The Irish Times

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

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.

© The Irish Times