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LTE on institutionalised child abuse in Ireland (Update)

by Frank Schnittger Sat May 23rd, 2009 at 11:16:53 AM EST

Letter published in Irish Independent - Ireland's largest circulation daily. Unfortunately the qualifier "who came in contact with the system" highlighted below was omitted from the published text.

There have been many expressions of shock at the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which found that physical and sexual abuse of children was widespread, systematic and endemic.  But are we really surprised?  Can anyone from the Department of Education down to the Catholic Bishops, religious superiors, inspectors, teachers, care workers, doctors and nurses who came in contact with the system claim ignorance of what was actually going on?  

Many a child of my era was threatened with the reform school if we did not behave.  We had our own Gulag Archipelago on our own doorstep and did nothing about it because of a slavish adherence to a religious dictatorship.

But the Government priority now, as articulated by our Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, is to prevent anyone speaking ill of the religious by bringing in a new criminal offence of blasphemous libel.  We need not only to dismiss this ridiculous suggestion and those who propose it, but the Constitutional provision which they claim requires it.

If we put half as much effort into debating a Constitutional amendment to protect the rights of children as we have with the Lisbon Treaty, there is no reason why both referenda can't be held this October.

Indeed the Lisbon Treaty, if ratified, would give legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which includes specific provisions for the the rights of children to be protected and cared for; to express their views freely; for their views to be taken into account; to maintain contact with their parents; and to have their best interests be the primary consideration in all actions taken in relation to them.

It would be appropriate that a Referendum on a Treaty which gives legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union should also be accompanied by a constitutional amendment protecting the human rights of our children and getting rid of the archaic constitutional protection of religious rights not to be offended by others.

We have had enough of the apologies of the perpetrators of child abuse and those who protected them, and moral outrage only gets you so far. It is time we had some real action, and we cannot trust those who have ruled this country for so long to provide it. The message to all parties at the forthcoming elections must be - we want constitutional action on this now, or you will not be given a second chance.


Hopefully the omitted qualifier won't lead to a lot of irate teachers, nurses and doctors writing in letters expressing annoyance at being implicated in a scandal they knew nothing about - and resulting in the debate being derailed from the central point of the letter - which is not about looking for scapegoats now, but actually doing something concrete to prevent similar situations arising in the future.

[Update] Correction published today (25/5/09):

Clarifying some important issues - Letters, Opinion - Independent.ie

Many thanks for publishing my letter on Saturday. Unfortunately, in the editing process you left out an important qualifier which changes the sense of the letter and could lead to much annoyed over-reaction in response.

Your published version "Can anyone from the Department of Education, from Catholic bishops, religious superiors, inspectors, teachers, care workers, doctors to nurses, claim ignorance of what was actually going on?" excludes the phrase "who came in contact with the system" from my original draft, and makes it appear as if I am indicting all teachers, doctors, nurses, etc, when many, I am sure, had no idea what was going on.

Frank Schnittger

[End Update]

To provide some context for the letter, I include a quote from an Irish Times report today...

Systematic, endemic abuse in State institutions laid bare - The Irish Times - Thu, May 21, 2009

THOUSANDS OF children suffered physical and sexual abuse over several decades in residential institutions run by religious congregations, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has found.

The report published yesterday describes how children lived in "a climate of fear" in the institutions and finds that "sexual abuse was endemic in boys' institutions". Cases of sexual abuse were hidden by the congregations that ran the institutions and offenders were transferred to other locations where they were free to abuse again, the report says.

The commission, which was chaired by Mr Justice Seán Ryan, heard from more than 500 witnesses who said they had been sexually abused.There were also many reports of injuries, including broken bones, lacerations and bruising.

Eight chapters in the report are devoted to the Christian Brothers, the largest provider of residential care for boys in the State. More allegations were made against the Christian Brothers than all other male orders combined.

The report sharply criticises the Department of Education for failing to carry out proper inspections. "The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection," the report says. The commission, which was set up in 1999, investigated industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages, institutions for children with disabilities and ordinary day schools. It heard evidence covering the period from 1914 to the present but the bulk of its work addressed the period from the early 1930s to the early 1970s.

More than 1,700 men and women gave evidence of the abuse they suffered as children in institutions, with over half reporting sexual abuse. Accounts of abuse given in relation to 216 institutions are detailed in the report, which runs to nearly 3,000 pages.

More than 800 priests, brothers, nuns and lay people were implicated. The final cost of the commission may be over €100 million.

 ----------

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is separate from the Residential Institutions Redress Board, which has received some 15,000 applications. It is expected the total cost of awards by the board will exceed €1 billion, of which €128 million has been contributed by 18 religious congregations.

Of course the usual apologies have been issued by the perpetrators, who also blocked and frustrated the work of the Commission for as long as they could.  Many of the allegedly non-existent files which form the basis of much of the report were eventually found in the Vatican.  We have had enough of such apologies.  It is time for real concerted action.

One of the key issues which needs to be addressed is that the authoritarian structures of the Church intrinsically predisposed it to the abusive relationships which were so widespread, systematic and endemic in its ranks. This wasn't a case of "a few bad apples". A religious sensibility which claims power over what others may say or do is itself intrinsically rotten to the core. The Church has been the bad apple in our society, and no amount of good it may have done in other spheres can disguise that fact.

The democratic guarantee of religious freedom must also include the right to be free of religion. And that means we must be free to speak freely about religion. Getting rid of the Blasphemy provision in our Constitution is therefore a key part of getting rid of that authoritarian mindset.

Display:
"bringing in a new criminal offence of blasphemous libel."

How real a possibility is this?  I have a good friend working on trying to do something about the insane "defamation of religion" resolution that keeps getting passed in the UN.  I wonder what kind of traction one would get if one were to draw the obvious parallel.  

"Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms." -Dostoevsky

by poemless on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 11:38:58 AM EST
See my diary on The politics of distraction on this.  I think this is Fianna Fail trying to shore up its conservative base prior to the elections.  However they may have badly misread the mood of the electorate.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 12:05:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A slightly amended version of this post has also been posted on Thinkaboutit.  All recs here or ratings there appreciated.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 01:32:58 PM EST
Also available in orange where there has been some discussion of the Irish historical context of the abuse.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 02:48:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the text at the top is your LTE, Frank, congratulations, it's spot on.

Meanwhile I'm also thinking of the Pope and his comforting message to Africans at risk of AIDS.

The democratic guarantee of religious freedom must also include the right to be free of religion.

Yes.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 03:37:07 PM EST
oops - yes it is - I've added a header to make that clearer

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 03:41:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Many of the allegedly non-existent files which form the basis of much of the report were eventually found in the Vatican.

Why hasn't the EU sent a team of investigators into the Vatican archives long ago? With orders to charge a Cardinal with obstruction of justice for every document that mysteriously "goes missing" in the course of the investigation. Starting with Herr Ratzinger.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 04:30:51 PM EST
But it's an independent sovereign state when it suits it to be...

You might as well ask " why doesn't the EU arrest US war criminals when they set foot on European soil".

Has no one taught you how the world works?

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 04:40:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, they taught me, alright.

I learned that Washington never told a lie
I learned that soldiers seldom die
I learned that everybody's free
That's what the teacher said to me
And that's what I learned in school today
That's what I learned in school

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 05:03:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You learnt well....

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 05:16:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the last days fo a previous Fianna Fail Government by a pious Minister for Education, Michael Woods, who will no doubt receive a Papal Knighthood some day...

'No legal way' to review abuse deal with Church - The Irish Times - Thu, May 21, 2009

There is "no legal way" that 2002 deal granting religious congregations indemnity against child-abuse claims can be renegotiated, Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe said this evening.

Opposition parties today called for a review of the deal following the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which was published yesterday. The report found endemic abuse in State institutions with children living in "daily terror" of physical violence.

The Cabinet will discuss the commission's recommendations next week, and the report is to be debated in the Dáil.

Under the 2002 indemnity agreement between the State and the congregations, the religious orders were awarded indemnity against all future claims if they paid €128 million in cash and property.



notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 04:51:37 PM EST
New York seems to be having a similar battle, but it looks like it isn't only the Catholics who are opposed:

Escalating Tensions, Protesters Rile Agudath Israel Over Sex-Abuse Bill | The Forward | 20.5.09

[...]

The angry exchange outside the annual dinner May 15 for Agudath Israel, a national ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, encapsulates the escalating battle within the Orthodox community over sexual abuse of children by rabbis, yeshiva teachers and other religious authority figures. On one side, a band of loosely organized victims of sexual abuse and their supporters are crying out for community leaders to take a tougher stand against pedophilia. On the other side, many powerful leaders regard any public airing of sexual abuse allegations in the Orthodox community as hillul Hashem, a desecration of God's name.

[...]

The protesters' ire was aimed at Agudah's opposition to a bill now before the state Legislature that would extend the statute of limitations for civil and criminal claims of child sexual abuse and create a one-time, one-year "window" during which victims of crimes committed beyond the statute of limitations could file civil claims against their alleged abusers and the institutions that harbored them.

The bill appears stalled in the state Assembly a few weeks before the legislative session adjourns.


by gk (g k quattro due due sette "at" gmail.com) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 05:34:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well obviously, if religious leaders are acting in God's name, any criticism of their actions must be blasphemous...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 06:42:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Response to report on child abuse in State institutions - The Irish Times - Fri, May 22, 2009

Madam, - I would like to put on record that the pseudonym of "Noah Kitterick" employed by the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse refers to Mr Peter Tyrrell.

It should enter the public record that this brave man who suffered abuse for six years at the hands of the Christian Brothers in Letterfrack, who was ignored by those Brothers when he confronted them about the abuses in 1953, who in 1958 wrote an 80,000-word account depicting in the most memorable and honest fashion the numerous violations and terror he suffered, should now suffer the ignominy of perpetual anonymity in the final report into the culture of abuse in these institutions.

The claims Peter Tyrrell made to senator Owen Sheehy Skeffington in the 1950s lay hidden for nearly half a century until they were discovered and published as Founded on Fear (Irish Academic Press and Transworld Ireland) in 2006.

The decision to deny his brave testimony this small place in the official account is quite unnecessary since Peter Tyrrell was referred to by his real name by both Mr Justice Seán Ryan and Brother Gibson of the Christian Brothers in the evidence relating to Letterfrack (June 16th, 2006).

It seems an incredible pity that the need to protect two acknowledged perverts should deny the most elementary right of the first brave recorded voice against these abuses. It is made all the more incredible since the publication of Peter Tyrrell's account in 2006 led to an apology by the Christian Brothers for their treatment of him. I understand that the commission took a view that it must protect both the complainants' and abusers' identities.

However, Tyrrell's desire to let the world know about the culture of violence in Letterfrack was made very clear by the numerous unheeded letters he sent to priests, bishops, TDs, ministers and taoisigh.

As he said himself - in a letter before he burned himself alive in despair on Hampstead Heath in April 1967 - "My story, which is true, should be published in my own name".

I commend the report itself, while remaining deeply disappointed by the commission's decision to unjustly censor the honourable memory of Peter Tyrrell. - Yours, etc,

Dr DIARMUID WHELAN,

Department of History,

University College Cork,



notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 08:24:06 PM EST
Response to report on child abuse in State institutions - The Irish Times - Fri, May 22, 2009

Madam, - Every priest, nun and brother together with the religious orders and congregations they represent who have in any way participated in the emotional, psychological or sexual abuse and assault on innocent children in their care should be brought before this State's courts as a matter of urgency and subjected to the full rigours of the law for the abominable crimes they have committed and the thousands of lives they have utterly destroyed.

And every single victim of such horrific crimes should be given the opportunity to which they are legally entitled, to tell their personal stories and to present their own individual victim impact statements in a court of law.

Abuse destroys lives. Abuse destroys minds. The effects of abuse never go away. Abuse kills.

Yet in such an exhaustive report not one name of a guilty individual was published. The Irish Christian Brothers co-operated with the investigation on condition that no guilty party would be named. This in itself is an abomination.

It is not good enough for Cardinal Seán Brady to say that he is "sorry" for all that happened. This does nothing to restore the lives and minds of all those who have been abused. It is too little, too late.

If this State has any genuine respect for children then this report and all its findings should become the focus of a criminal investigation as justice, and only justice, can ever help to heal the catastrophic devastation of abuse. - Yours, etc,

Dr BERNADETTE BRADY,



notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 21st, 2009 at 08:27:44 PM EST
When I read your diary and listened to your interview of Dick Roche I was struck with how reasonable he seemed on many issues and how he was willing to comment rather starkly on many subjects.  I suppose that is the upside of being a minister in the dominant party that is kept in power by the conviction of the pious that this party will keep safe their beloved Church come what may.  This large portion of the electorate might not like what they are hearing about the Church, but probably fear that a less staunchly supportive party would allow things "to go too far."  In such a context having a scandal such as the one now underway could actually prove a benefit to his party.  Does that make sense in an Irish context?  

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri May 22nd, 2009 at 06:29:07 PM EST
I'm not sure about this theory.  I'm sure most conservative Catholics despair both for their Church and for the Irish political system at the moment, because no one is prepared to take their side at the moment.

The main challenge to Fianna Fail is coming from the left at the moment, because of their complicity in the deal they did with the Catholic Church to cap the latter's liability to c. 10% of the cost of compensation to victims.

Criticising Krugman, Klaus and Ganley, even in strong terms, plays well with a nationalist gsllery because all can be painted as interfering in Ireland's affairs. (Ganley at a subliminal level, because he speaks with an English accent).

Sticking up for Ireland's independence from nefarious outside influences never did a politician any hay harm!

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat May 23rd, 2009 at 07:41:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No more excuses, just protect our children - Letters, Opinion - Independent.ie

Saturday May 23 2009

There have been many expressions of shock at the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, which found that physical and sexual abuse of children was widespread, systematic and endemic. But are we really surprised?

Can anyone from the Department of Education, from Catholic bishops, religious superiors, inspectors, teachers, care workers, doctors to nurses, claim ignorance of what was actually going on?

Many a child of my era was threatened with the reform school if we did not behave. We had our own Gulag Archipelago on our doorstep and did nothing about it because of a slavish adherence to a religious dictatorship.

But the Government's priority now, as articulated by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, is to prevent anyone speaking ill of the religious by bringing in a new criminal offence of blasphemous libel.

If we put half as much effort into debating a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of children as we have with the Lisbon Treaty, then there would be no reason why both referenda cannot be held this October.

Indeed the Lisbon Treaty, if ratified, would give legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which includes specific provisions for the the rights of children to be protected; to express their views freely; for their views to be taken into account; to maintain contact with their parents; and to have their best interests be the primary consideration in all actions taken in relation to them.

It would be appropriate that a referendum on a treaty, which gives legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, should also be accompanied by a constitutional amendment protecting the rights of our children and getting rid of the archaic constitutional protection of religious rights not to be offended by others.

We have had enough of the apologies and excuses from perpetrators of child abuse and those who protected them. It is time we had some real action, and we cannot trust those who have ruled this country for so long to provide it.

The message to all parties at the elections must be: we want constitutional action on this now, or you will not be given a second chance.

Frank Schnittger



notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat May 23rd, 2009 at 06:31:47 AM EST

Hi,

Many thanks forpublishing my Letter bellow.  Unfortunately in the editing process you left out an important qualifier which changes the sense of the letter and could lead to much annoyed over-reaction in response.

Your published version "Can anyone from the Department of Education, from Catholic bishops, religious superiors, inspectors, teachers, care workers, doctors to nurses, claim ignorance of what was actually going on?" excludes the phrase "who came in contact with the system " from my original draft, and makes it appear as if I am indicting all teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. when many, I am sure, had no idea what was going on.

This could lead to an entirely false correspondence from teachers/doctors/nurses rightly claiming they knew nothing and expressing some anger at being accused of complicity in the scandal.  

I would really appreciate it it if you could publish a correction, as otherwise my teacher/doctor/nurse friends will give me hell!

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat May 23rd, 2009 at 07:14:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nick Cohen: Writing from London
The Courage of the Godly

Ophelia Benson draws on her considerable reserves of scorn to mock the new Archbishop of Westminster's piously self-pitying statement that it took `courage' for clergy involved in child abuse to confront their actions.

The vanity of it, the self-love and self-absorption, the misdirection, the narcissism, the callousness - it's just staggering. Courage! Courage forsooth! What courage?! The subject here is six decades of gross abuse and exploitation of generation after generation of children by adult nuns and priests; what does that have to do with courage?! It doesn't take courage for a grown-up well-fed strong adult to bully and starve and torture and shame a child. On the contrary, as we all know, or ought to, large strong people tormenting smaller weaker people is the very opposite of courage. The Catholic church condoned and concealed this kind of behavior for decade after decade after decade - it is much too late for it to talk about its own courage no

and

Archbishop of Westminster attacked by Dublin Archbishop for abuse comments -Times Online

The new Archbishop of Westminster today faced an unprecedented attack from a fellow Roman Catholic prelate over comments he made over the Irish child abuse scandal.

The criticism from Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, came just hours after the two-hour installation ceremony of Vincent Nichols, replete with pomp and ceremony in front a congregation of 2,000 at Westminster Cathedral in London.

Dr Martin said that it was "unhelpful" of Archbishop Nichols to praise the "courage" of Irish priests who abused children and then confessed.

Dr Martin told the Irish Independent: "His comments, as reported, have not been helpful. My thoughts and anger are entirely on the side of victims.



Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat May 23rd, 2009 at 07:05:59 AM EST
Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, is a former senior Vatican diplomat well used to toeing the Vatican line on everything.  However he has been quite outspoken on this issue and even threatened to take his predecessor (Cardinal Connell) to court for failing to release documents on child abuse which the latter claimed were privileged.

Either Diarmuid Martin has given up all hope of getting a red hat, or he is a genuinely good guy.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat May 23rd, 2009 at 07:29:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
`We did not know that child abuse was a crime,' says retired Catholic archbishop
Today we learn that a retired Catholic Archbishop in the US is claiming in a soon-to-be-published memoir that he did not comprehend the potential harm to young victims or understand that the priests had committed a crime.
Said Rembert G Weakland:

    We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature.

Weakland, who retired in 2002 after it became known that he paid $450,000 in 1998 to a man who had accused him of date rape years earlier, said he initially:

    Accepted naively the common view that it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would `grow out of it'.



Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat May 23rd, 2009 at 07:52:13 AM EST
What universe were these guys in if they thought that the "common view" was that sexual and extreme physical abuse did no harm?

A common excuse in Ireland is that "the cultural norms were different then".  Sure they were because the Catholic Church actively fought all those who sought to stand up for more progressive values and human rights.  It was the Church which had largely created and maintained those norms against all comers in the first place.  The Church was never a passive viction of social norms.  It arrogated to itself the right to define them.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat May 23rd, 2009 at 08:09:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Precisely

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat May 23rd, 2009 at 08:32:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 
Until last week this was only a humour peace. Now im not sure.

by Torres on Mon May 25th, 2009 at 06:29:13 AM EST
*piece :S
by Torres on Mon May 25th, 2009 at 06:29:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Clarifying some important issues - Letters, Opinion - Independent.ie

Many thanks for publishing my letter on Saturday. Unfortunately, in the editing process you left out an important qualifier which changes the sense of the letter and could lead to much annoyed over-reaction in response.

Your published version "Can anyone from the Department of Education, from Catholic bishops, religious superiors, inspectors, teachers, care workers, doctors to nurses, claim ignorance of what was actually going on?" excludes the phrase "who came in contact with the system" from my original draft, and makes it appear as if I am indicting all teachers, doctors, nurses, etc, when many, I am sure, had no idea what was going on.

Frank Schnittger



notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon May 25th, 2009 at 07:08:56 AM EST


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