Archives for posts with tag: child abuse

Few people outside Ireland know of Mary Raftery, but they should.

To appreciate the kind of person she was, you need to appreciate what Irish society was like just a few decades ago. Most things of importance in Ireland were controlled by the Catholic Church. Because of their power and influence, nothing happened in the country without the imprimatur of the bishops. They had ways of making their views known. What displeased them quickly came to an end. Priests were seen as minor nobility: to be revered, not to be crossed, no matter what their personal qualities and vices. The Church had their backs. So long as you followed the system, you could get on with your life.

And what of those who didn’t fit? The Church had solutions for them, too. They ran Industrial Schools to deal with poor and unruly children. They ran slave laundries to deal with unmarried mothers. Within these walls, they beat troublemakers into submission. For others, they had more effective means of gaining the upper hand, practically guaranteeing that they would never speak up for the shame of it.

Much of this took place behind closed gates and closed doors. Most people never heard of it. If you heard something, you were far better off staying quiet. Life would be easier for you. From the highest statesmen to the keenest of media investigators, the monster that lay at the heart of the Catholic Church in Ireland lay hidden for decades; all the while growing, gathering tentacles, feeding off its most vulnerable, corrupting those who came in contact with it.

This was the country in which Mary Raftery began her career in investigative journalism. Things weren’t right. A heroin epidemic was raging in Dublin. Mary began to inquire into its causes. Her inquiries lead to broken people, their dreams destroyed long before they ever took drugs. Ireland had a horrible secret, and it was behind a lock that would require several years of dogged determination to open. Mary helped to unpick that lock.

The 1990’s were not great years for the Catholic Church in Ireland. Bishops and priests were discovered to have had children in secret. Damaging books were being written. Pederasts in clerical garb were being exposed. It was possible to look upon these incidents as aberrations and the protagonists as bad apples. Easily excused and dismissed. It would take something much bigger to rock the sensibilities of official Ireland.

In 1999, Mary Raftery’s RTE documentary series, “States of Fear”, did just that. It exposed a widespread system of institutional abuse, through which thousands of children were processed, for over half a century. The system functioned through deprivation, starvation, overwork and violence: both physical and sexual. What this documentary had in abundance was evidence. After her programme, it wasn’t so easy to make excuses.

Mary went on to produce more documentaries that set out the scale of the problem. “Cardinal Secrets” (2002) showed how senior bishops “managed” the crisis, often compounding the horror and injury for victims. More recently, “Behind the Walls” (2011) shone a light into the Government run psychiatric hospitals. At one time, Ireland lead the world in terms of the number of people detained in mental institutions.

For those still in denial, the subsequent years have been torrid indeed. The scale of the problem has been revealed to be enormous and manifest. A succession of official reports have backed up, with compound interest, the original allegations. The rot within the Catholic Church has been laid bare. We now live in an Ireland that looks at the past and our past masters, and says “never again”.

We knew Mary Raftery from her regular media appearances and for her great faculty to put words to the intense anger we all felt when the latest stories came to light. She was not someone to be trifled with in a debate, as apologists found quickly to their cost. She came across as brave and ruthless in the face of grave injustice. Mary epitomised a new type of morality, based on compassion, truth and justice. She was a role model for a new, more secular generation. Mary Raftery was a sceptic, a rationalist and a humanist. Her name and her work deserves widespread recognition.

Mary Raftery died last week at the age of 54, after a battle with ovarian cancer.

The latest report on child abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese does not fail to shock. The abuse itself is chilling, depressing and appalling, but compounding it is the behaviour of senior bishops and cardinals as they conspired – over a 40 year period – to cover up the scale of the scandal throughout the Dublin area. A new word has been added to the common lexicon – “mental reservation“: where bishops could freely excuse themselves from telling the truth when under pressure to do so. The welfare of children was of little importance to these men, and the resultant suffering is incalculable.

Mary Raftery neatly sums up the gravity of this report and it’s implications for the Catholic Church in Ireland. One passage in particular stands out:

What emerges most clearly from the report is that priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals had the greatest difficulty in telling right from wrong, and crucially that their determination of what constituted wrongdoing was vastly different from that of the population at large.

Let’s think about that, for a second. The Catholic Church, like most religions, believes that the greatest value it confers to society is its ability to guide people in distinguishing right from wrong. And yet, it’s most eminent leaders and scholars behaved – and still behave – in a way that would lead you to the firm conclusion that, despite their years of learning, refinement and experience, they have no clue as to what is commonly accepted as morally acceptable or morally abhorrent behaviour. If the very leaders of this church can’t distinguish between right and wrong, what use is Catholicism at all? Why should any sane society uncritically accept the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in our schools? What real benefit does it offer our children?

The implications of the report are clear: The Church badly needs to be removed from the affairs of the Irish State. Let the parents and teachers teach our children right from wrong – they will do a better job. The churchmen had their chance for long time and they blew it. Enough is enough.

Under the collar

For me, one of the most memorable moments in the movie “Schindler’s List” is when well dressed officials began to set up tables, open up their journals, prepare their inkwells and process the lives of human beings as if they were just commodities to be dispensed with like jam, cake and toilet rolls. All that mattered was the system. Everyone involved was a cog, with a defined role, and dare you not deviate from the actions assigned to you.

This image has come into my mind as we in Ireland learn about the atrocities committed on children by members of the Catholic Church during the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s inside “Industrial Schools” – special institutions set up to deal with poor children. And “deal with them” they did, through a regime of mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. 

We have been hearing about clerical child abuse for nearly two decades now in Ireland, but what is truly shocking from the Ryan report is the sheer scale of the problem. It’s a cast of thousands, if not tens of thousands. At the core were the abusers, running into the hundreds. But it didn’t stop there. Many people in high places kept quiet while these thugs did whatever they wished. What were the colleagues, the managers, the principals, the school inspectors, the civil servants, the police, the priests, the judges, the bishops and the politicians doing during this time? What did they know? What did they try to hide? This is the scandal.

There was a system in place. Clinical, effective, and unconscionably evil. This system sought to protect its own integrity above everything else, with little thought to those in its charge. This system resolutely defended the very antithesis of what it set itself up to achieve. They talked about love, but they dealt in cruelty. They talked about hope, but they only brought despair. They talked about caring, but they left a trail of broken people in their wake.

In the case of the Christian Brothers or the Sisters of Mercy, although the time for real accountability has long gone, it’s time they sold all their properties to the state to compensate the abuse victims and got off the stage. They leave behind a shameful legacy and thousands of damaged lives. They should forego their role in the education of the young, or the treatment of the sick. That’s the state’s job, not the job of the religious, who preach love and caring while keeping their dark criminal secrets under lock and key. It’s sickening that any institution, having committed so much evil during their tenure, could have any remaining authority in Irish public life. 

But by and large, it’s all a footnote. These orders started hemorrhaging staff forty years ago. Even when I was in school, you would have been considered half-mad to even contemplate joining the Christian Brothers or the nuns.  What remains, by and large, is a handful of septuagenarians and octogenarians in retirement homes. Most of the real criminals are long dead – saved from the debt they clearly should have repaid in their lifetimes. The bigger issue is the degree to which the authorities collaborated together, and how such collaborations should be identified, exposed and struck down whenever they occur.

For markets to work, there are strict anti-collaboration laws between suppliers, enforceable by harsh penalties. A similar situation applies to the management of the vulnerable. The managers and the regulators must never collaborate. They must never make allowances for each other. Where power rests with just one group, abuses will happen.We need to ensure that all systems of for managing the young, the sick, the elderly and the disabled are more transparent and accountable. We need systems whereby wrongdoing can be corrected quickly for the sake of those who depend on the services of that system. Bad teachers can still get protection from management and from Trade Unions, and from lax inspection regimes. So too can bad nurses, bad doctors, bad police, bad managers and bad civil servants. Even when you take the Catholic Church out of the equation, there is plenty of reason to believe that this generational disease in Irish public life will go on and on.

This link on Paddy Doyle’s website will tell you all you need to know about how much the Church and the State colluded together. It’s shameful and disgusting. 

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