The Ryan Report was published on Wednesday, May 20th and the silence that ensued from the religious congregations for days afterwards was deafening, given their typical passion for public profile when the issue involves spending somebody else’s money on their pet objectives e.g. ‘the vulnerable’, ‘the isolated’ etc. Sadly, too many of ‘the vulnerable’ are by-products of their own gulags.
When they eventually emerged from their closet on Wednesday, May 27th, their message was ‘no money’, but we wish to interface privately and directly with victims of decades of abuse to provide a form of assistance that was neither ascertained, or possibly ascertainable. Their spokesman sounded like someone from the car park clampers advising that the clamps on the victims would be removed forthwith! I should emphasize that money alone will not recreate the public trust and esteem that these congregations have lost.
The Government had been hiding resolutely behind what were supposed to be the legal impediments to changing the 2002 deal – a contribution of €127 million and an absolute indemnity against further claims.
However, public opinion and sentiment moved briskly ahead of Government statements and the sense of outrage amongst the public was, and is, incandescent. There is a deep sense of public trust being grossly violated.
The religious congregations say they will now provide more resources which the Government, quite rightly, insist will be allocated by the State. An assistant commissioner of the Garda Siochána (police) has been mandated to look into the possibility of bringing forward criminal charges.
The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, has been on a 1-week visit to Massachusetts and, given the worldwide publicity attaching to derring-do of the cited religious congregations, she must have been clearly embarrassed, humiliated as horrified as the rest of us. I’ve lived in Boston for 5 years and I can intimately empathise with the social predicament she faced as a consequence of this Report’s findings.
She is a president that the nation is truly and deeply proud of, an incumbent who has the measure of the office she holds and is always tempered in her public remarks and very adept at reaching a diversified audience. But she also stated clearly that if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing perpetrators must answer. The President is usually closer to public opinion that the Government. She has been in office for 12 years and sustains an approval rating in the mid 90’s.
A Reputation in Shreds
Most adults in Ireland were aware of the harshness and austerity of the religious controlled gulags but the evidence of The Ryan Report brought everything into focus and exposed the unabated horror that was perpetuated in the name of Christ. Several of the victims were interviewed on radio this week and it was heart-rending to hear their stories. Thankfully, some of those who spoke enjoyed some stability in their lives and the security of a happy family. But all of them had to conceal their true background and identity from spouses that whose love, loyalty and friendship they have enjoyed for decades. There is not a single individual who has been abused that does not feel an enduring sense of shame that can be so deep rooted that it is actually hard to recognise for what it is.
The reputation of religious congregations has sunk so low that people now ask what possible function in society can untrustworthy organizations have? Their advocates, over the years, would remind people about the ‘good works’ and selfless priest, brothers and nuns’ whose basis sense of vocation and goodness should not be tarnished. But the reality is that all congregations have been holed beneath the water line.
The Report only dealt with a segment of the institutions they controlled – industrial schools and reformatories. But there are considerable number of religious personnel who held positions of trust in schools and boarding schools, such as the Franciscan-run Gormanston College and the Dominican-run Newbridge College who have been convicted of child sex abuse. We have reached the stage in Ireland, sadly, where the absence of this type of abuse is the exception rather than the rule.
The 2002 deal involved a contribution by the 18 religious congregations of €128 million that was capped and an indemnity against further claims was agreed with the Irish Government. The devious, duplicitous nature of these people is marked by the report that they have not even fulfilled their obligation under the terms of the 2002 agreement. They're are ripe with an abundance of fatuous excuses.
The efforts of the Conference of Religious of Ireland CORI in response to this Report will provide scholarly material on how not to respond to a major crisis for decades to come. Their initial response was to stonewall; to circle the wagons and to close ranks. But if they are now deciding to provide additional resources it is not motivated by spontaneous generosity. It is a consequence of them being publicly humiliated and seen as hypocrites and parasites. I don’t use these terms lightly. A hypocrite is a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, or principles that he, or she, does not actually posses, or a person who feigns some desirable, or publicly approved attitude? A parasite is a person that derives support or advantage through association from another person or institution, without giving any useful or proper return.
Their statement issued on May 25th, refers to the “vast scale” of the abuse they perpetrated as being “horrendous” – not the abuse, merely the scale. Their initial reluctance to provide more money for compensation was stated to be based on any additional money “would only go to the Government!
They were also quick to advise that “the recommendations and conclusions of the Ryan Report are imperative (that is, unavoidable) for all those involved in the care of vulnerable people” . But their gulags’ closed some years ago so this statement so this admonishment does not refer to themselves but to third parties.
They were also scared at the prospect of a civil court action as the explanations below for their stated reason in 2002 for contributing to the Redress Fund reveals. Now, it is likely that the criminal courts may intruded into their tranquil lives either on indictment or as witnesses.
Finally, I found it interesting to reflect on where and why did these religious congregations become established. Nine of the 18 have a French origin and the French Revolution was a catalyst in some of them being established. All, but one, was established before the middle of the nineteenth century. The following milestones impacted on Irish society in their formative years:
1800: Act of Union, which shuttered the Anglo-Irish parliament in College Green, Dublin
1829: Catholic Emancipation: but the right to vote was restricted to holders of freehold property worth £10, not £2 as had been the case. This meant that the Catholics were emancipated and could become and MP, but the right to vote was not so widespread.
1845-1850: Irish potato Famine, which saw the population drop from 8 million to 6 million, of which one million starved to death and one million emigrated.
1868: Industrial Schools Act – which created the gulags that are the subject of The Ryan report
1869: Irish Church Act, which meant that the Anglican Church was no longer the official church of the Kingdom of Britain and Ireland, as it was then known.
This self-explanatory table lists the congregations cited, the year and place of their founding; whether they proffered a public apology; the number of schools they were in charge of which are pertinent to the Report and why the contributed to the Redress Fund set up in 2002. It is important to bear in mind that even though this Fund was to provide €128 million, that the religious congregations concerned have not even met that obligation. When ranks close and wagons circle – inertia is never far away!
Name of Congregation
Apology / Operations / Reason for contributing to Redress Fund
Rosminian Institute of Charity
1999: Deep regrets
Operated two industrial schools in Upton, Co Cork and Ferryhouse, Co Tipperary
Contributed to Redress Fund because ‘it was the right thing to do’ and that the litigation route would be disastrous for all concerned.
The Dominican Order
Operated one orphanage in Dublin until 1993
Contributed to Redress Fund
The Sisters of Mercy
1996: Apology, following broadcast of ‘Dear Daughter’
2004: Second apology
Operated 26 industrial schools
Contributed to Redress Fund to avoid litigation and to facilitate closure
Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd
Operated 4 industrial schools in Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Wexford
Contributed to Redress Fund for pastoral and practical considerations – e.g. financial restraints, to avoid the huge cost of litigation and to avoid confrontation with ex residents.
The Presentation Brothers
Operated industrial school at Greenmount, Cork
Contributed to Redress Fund to avoid being sued
The Religious Sisters of Charity
No general apology, but concerned and sad about children in Madonna House; that the conviction of a male childcare worker for sex abuse made the issue ‘real’ for them and when another childcare worker was convicted they were appalled and the abuse by the accused caused ‘untold misery’, which they ‘regret’.
Operated five industrial schools in Dublin and Kilkenny; 19 primary schools and eight post-primary schools
Three staff convicted for child sex abuse for which apologies were tendered
Contributed to Redress Fund for strong pastoral reasons and to avoid the rigour of litigation. Definition of abuse considered ‘so broad’.
The Christian Brothers
Operated six industrial schools and one residential school for deaf boys and numerous post-primary schools
Contributed to Redress Fund because the Fund would not ‘make a judgement’ on complaints and to avoid protracted litigation.
The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul
Operated one industrial school, four orphanages, five centres for people with intellectual disability, an orthopaedic residential children’s hospital
Contributed to Redress Fund – without hesitation
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge
Associated with CORI apology
Operated industrial school in Drumcondra and a reformatory in Kilmacud, Dublin
Contributed to Redress Fund because 5 litigation cases were pending and that there could be others. To also avail of indemnity against litigation and to achieve closure
The Brothers of Charity
1995: Public apology
Operated two schools for children with learning difficulties at Lota, Cork and Renmore, Galway; an adult psychiatric hospital in Waterford and a service for adults with learning difficulties at Clarenbridge, Galway and Limerick.
Contributed to Redress Fund followed 50 civil claims. Fund enabled them elude protracted litigation process and consequences, trauma and confrontation. Redress also did not focus on particular episodes of abuse.
The Daughters of the Heart of Mary
Operated orphanage in Dun Laoghaire that cared for over 2,000 children; visiting priest convicted of sex abuse in 1997
Contributed to Redress Fund after one set of allegations was cited. Two other allegations ensured and Redress was deemed the best way to compensate. It would also avoid adversarial or conflict and it would avoid the putting of claims individually
The De La Salle Brothers
Operated industrial school in Finglas, Dublin between 1972 and 1994
Contributed to Redress Fund after eight compensation claims emerged and to achieve some certainty with respect to future litigation.
The Sisters of St Claire
Operated an industrial school in Cavan and orphanage in Harold’s Cross Dublin. 35 children died in a fire in Cavan on 23 February 1943
Contributed to Redress Fund to assist former internees who maybe experiencing difficulties in their lives and to avoid confrontation at all costs and that the attribution of blame would be avoided.
The Presentation Sisters
Operated industrial schools in Dundrum and Cashel, Co Tipperary
Contributed to Redress Fund to avoid protracted litigation “which isn’t in anybody’s interest”
The Sisters of St Louis
Operates an industrial school at Bundoran, Co Donegal
Contributed to Redress Fund to prevent the ordeal of past residents and the nuns having to go through the courts and long drawn out cases. They would also be indemnified against future claims.
The Hospitaller Order of St John of God
Operated a day and residential school at Blackrock, Co Dublin and other institutions.
Contributed to Redress Fund to avoid litigation and indemnity was an attractive proposition
The Sisters of Nazareth
Operated a residential home for boys and girls in Sligo
Contributed to Redress Fund as it offered a non-adversarial and speedy avenue and that Sisters would not have to attend hearings.
The Obates of Mary Immaculate
1999: Deep Regrets
Operated Daingean Reformatory, Co Offaly and a detention centre at Lusk, Co Dublin
Contributed to Redress Fund because it was better that money would get to claimants than on legal expenses and their contribution facilitated a ‘pastoral action’; also anxious to act in solidarity with other cited congregations. Surviving Oblates would avoid trauma of litigious lawsuits
These congregations set out to support the poor, vulnerable and isolated. But to understand their origins I have summarised the mission of the order of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd.
Its mission of one of this congregation was to provide “shelter for girls and women of dissolute habits, who wish to do penance for their inequities and lead a truly Christian life. Not only voluntary penitents, but also those consigned by civil and parental authority are admitted. Many of these penitents desire to remain for life; they are admitted to take vows and form the class of ‘magdalens’ under the direction of Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Many of these magdalens frequently rise to an eminent degree of sanctity. Beside girls and women of this class, the order also admits children who have been secured from danger, before they have fallen or stained by serious crime. They are instructed i habits of industry and self-respect and in all the duties they owe to themselves and society. The penitents, magdalens and preservates form perfectly distinct classes, completely segregated from one another.”
This congregation founded Ruhama, in 1989 to intervene with prostitutes in Dublin prostitution. Their trustees and board of directors includes the Governor of Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.