Thursday, 21 May 2009

The suffering of children

Ireland's Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has reported back on an inquiry beginning in 2000. In this final report, 2,600 long, the Commission documents the abuse of thousands of children in the 'care' of Catholic-run institutions over a period of 60 years. These children were subjected to neglect, violence, emotional cruelty and sexual abuse. The Church knew and did nothing.

The cost of compensation to these children will be €1.3bn. The Church has struck a deal whereby it will meet a paltry 10% of this cost - Ireland's recession-battered taxpayers will meet the remainder. And what price do you put on a happy childhood, anyway? How do you compensate the spouses and families of the abused, who have no doubt shared in their ongoing pain and unhappiness?

I'm Catholic, and I've tried to share the belief that the clergy who abuse children are simply the bad apples in a otherwise good institution. But I can't reconcile this belief with the knowledge that this massive abuse of children took place because Irish society allowed it to happen. Colleagues of offending priests and nuns looked the other way. The Church hierarchy relocated sexual predators from one institution to the next. Catholic parents refused to believe their children's stories of abuse; or practiced their faith so fervently that children knew they simply couldn't confide what was happening in their own families. And some of the abused children didn't have parents to confide in. Corrupt clergy singled out the orphans, children with disabilities and the poor for abuse, for these children were the most vulnerable.

I can't actually describe the rage and the sorrow which these children's stories make me feel. And I can't any longer accept that the blame belongs with a few bad apples. Bad fruit comes from a rotten tree.


stargazer said...

further to this, i heard on radio nz this morning that there will be no criminal prosecutions as a result of the report. that totally sux.

Anna said...

Oh FFS - Ireland just doesn't do the separation of church and state very well, does it?

Deborah said...

Anna, there were many reasons behind my final departure from the church, the most obvious one being a complete lack of belief! But I couldn't even construe the church as a good organisation any more. Sure, there were lots of good people in the pews, but the church itself was, I thought, rotten. This exemplifies it.

Anna said...

That's what I find hard to reconcile - I know lots of people who are Catholic and who have absolute integrity, yet the institution itself is capable of these monstrous actions. I don't get how people can be induced to behave like this - do they believe that upholding the church itself is so important that the means justify the end, and if a few abuse cases get ignored on the way, then so be it?

Anonymous said...

Irish society? What happened to blaming men?

Surely it was individual Catholic men who actually carried out this abuse.

Anna said...

Anon, that sounds suspiciously like trolling to me, but I'll humour you. The abuse was carried out by male and female clergy, and others in the church were aware but didn't act. They share moral responsibility too.

lenore said...

I went to a roman catholic school for two years and the sisters of mercy were a nasty and bitter bunch (and terrible teachers). The roman catholic church sits on a foundation of violence and power and the only thing they have ever seemed sorry about, is that they have been caught!

libertyscott said...

Either the church conducts it own purge, name and shame of those responsible, supporting the prosecution of those for whom there is enough evidence to prosecute, or it remains complicit with evil on a grand scale.

The Church covered up, as did the State, it looked like a club for sadists and child rapists, where you could go on a tour of the country, enjoying yourself with children facilitated by the church. The key surely was not being SO evil that you killed anyone or upset your fellow perverts, but just raped the odd kid, punished and scared others.

One point that particularly disturbed me was how the scum would lie to kids that their parents are dead - how revolting is that? Torturing kids and implying nobody else is around who wants you.

Could it have been more evil?

Michael said...

Is the Church the Clergy or is it the People?

The abuse suffered might also be able to be comparred with our mental health abuses of past institutions. Gender re-assignment of making guys into girls because of botched ops & theories.

We in NZ are currently running a pre-1990s look into abuses of care. The difference is that in NZ the state kept responsibility and didn't pass it onto the Church.

So this isn't so much a Catholic thing but an issue of power abuses of institutions.

(Guess who the Catholic is :)

Anna said...

Hey Michael

You're certainly right about the terrible things that have happened in state institutions, but I don't think that the Church is the same sort of institution, or that this is an excuse anyway.

The Church is made up of individuals who have personally made a commitment to live by Christ's values - not just to follow the instructions of the institution. Every individual in the Church has an inescapable individual moral responsibility, and the institution exists to serve God, not itself - so following the poor example of another person in the insitution, or turning a blind eye, can never be OK in that context. It's not even particularly understandable. The Catholic pressures another person to ignore their conscience isn't acting according to their faith.

The admirable thing about the Church (from my point of view, anyway) is that it has such a strong tradition of individuals who stay true to their consciences while the rest of the world is going nuts. That's why we celebrate martyrs, after all.

In light of all this, I just can't work out what the hell went wrong in Ireland (or indeed, in all the other places this has happened).

katy said...

"So this isn't so much a Catholic thing but an issue of power abuses of institutions."

I don't know much about Irish history but I would say it is difficult to consider modern Ireland without reference to the civil war and a colonisation as nasty as anywhere. When groups of people suffer then bad things happen to their children. I remember seeing a stat that 1:4 Irish women report having experience sexual abuse. Maybe not a Catholic or institutional thing but a traumatised group of people thing?

Anna said...

I'm sure that the colonisation experience has played a part - but abuse scandals involving the church have been international. There was St John of God in NZ, plus many other similar incidents in Australia, the US and Canada. I'd guess that there have been like incidents in Sth America and Africa, but they've generated less media interest.

katy said...

Anna, agreed. I would be very interested to know if Ireland is worse than other places in this regard (every pakeha NZer I seem to have met having had a drunken and violent Irish grandfather etc). The collective experience of the Irish people does seem pretty nasty but as a non-expert it is difficult to compare suffering there with other places where the adult-child thing also seems to have broken down.

Anna said...

Something I'd also be interested to know is how countries with different 'strands' of Catholicism differ in their use of institutions, treatment of children, etc. NZ's Catholicism seems to stem mostly from the Irish tradition, but there are heaps of others, of course.