The thousands of victims of Ireland’s child-abuse homes spent decades just trying to get the public to believe them. A mammoth investigation has proved the horrors of their youth, but left many disappointed that their abusers were not named.
A nine-year probe into child abuse by Ireland’s Catholic religious orders painted a damning portrait of a system that shielded child-molesters from justice and trapped generations of Ireland’s poorest children to misery from the 1930s to the 1990s.
“I do genuinely believe that it would have been a further step towards our healing if our abusers had been named and shamed,” said Christine Buckley, 62, who spent her first 18 years in a Dublin orphanage run by Sisters of Mercy nuns.
More than 30,000 children deemed to be petty thieves, truants or from dysfunctional families — a category that included unmarried mothers — were sent to the mostly residential schools where the abuse took place.
Irish President Mary McAleese on Thursday denounced what she called an “atrocious betrayal of love” by Catholic clergy toward these children. She praised the victims for demanding the truth, despite Irish Catholic society’s desire to doubt them and look the other way.
“My heart goes out to the victims of this terrible injustice, an injustice compounded by the fact that they had to suffer in silence for so long,” McAleese said. “This report utterly vindicates their determination to break that silence.”
But the victims, now mostly in their 50s to 80s, said Wednesday’s 2,600-page report, despite its unprecedented scope and detail, did not make public what matters most — the names of their abusers.
That’s because a religious order at the heart of the abuse charges — the Christian Brothers — successfully sued the investigators to keep the identities of all their abusive members secret.
Buckley, the daughter of an unwed mother, said the orphanage was closed to the outside world and the children inside lived a life of slave labor manufacturing rosaries. She said there was no way to escape the ritual humiliation, beatings and rape regardless of whether the children achieved their quota of producing 60 rosaries per day.
She didn’t track down her parents, an Irish mother and Nigerian father, until her 40s, when she became one of the first to demand justice for her stolen youth.
“I didn’t have a childhood,” said Buckley, who recalled being constantly cold, hungry and thirsty as the nuns denied children water to keep them from wetting their beds. She was severely beaten by a nun for trying to smuggle out a letter detailing the abuse.
The Catholic religious orders that ran 52 workhouse-style reform schools from the late 19th century until the mid-1990s apologized after the report’s release, speaking of their shame and regret. Abuses also took place at 216 other church-run institutions for children, which included orphanages, hostels, regular schools and schools for the disabled.
The Christian Brothers’ leader in Ireland, Brother Kevin Mullan, said the organization had been right to keep names of even the most well-documented abusers out of Wednesday’s report because “perhaps we had doubts about some of the allegations.”
“But on the other hand, I’d have to say that at this stage, we have no interest in protecting people who were perpetrators of abuse,” Mullan said, vowing to cooperate fully with any further investigation.
Buckley said the religious orders for years branded victims as money-seeking liars — and were incapable of admitting their guilt today. She specifically criticized Mullan.
"(Now) he doesn’t mind if the abusers are named and shamed? Isn’t that a little bit late for us?” she said.
Other victims emphasized that, for some of their former schoolmates, the end came far too soon. Their graves are inside the grounds of the workhouses, where some died of disease and malnutrition — and, survivors suspect, from the violence of their carekeepers.
“There’s a lot of people who didn’t survive here, and a lot of people who left very damaged,” said Mannix Flynn, who spent two years at a Christian Brothers school in remote western Ireland.
Flynn this week revisited the closed school grounds, where dozens of residents and staff are buried, their plots marked with small heart-shaped headstones.
“The whole place was a place of abuse. There wasn’t any sanctuary here. It was constant trauma and constant fear of attack,” said Flynn, 52, a playwright, author and artist in Dublin. He said he and his friends faced chronic sexual assaults.
The Irish government, which in 1999 apologized for its role in permitting decades of abuse and established the commission to investigate the problem, has tried to make some amends.
A government-appointed panel has paid 12,000 abuse survivors an average of €65,000 ($90,000) each — on condition they surrender their right to sue either the church or the state. About 2,000 more claims are pending.
Irish Catholic leaders cut a controversial deal with the government in 2001 that capped the church’s contribution at €128 million ($175 million) — a small fraction of the final cost to taxpayers.
Some victims and opposition politicians called Thursday for the church to give much more.
Cardinal Sean Brady, leader of Ireland’s 4 million Catholics, said increasing the church’s financial contributions for compensation was a decision that specific orders had to make, not the Irish church as a whole.
Associated Press Writer Shawn Pogatchnik contributed to this report.
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