The Catholic Church and Irish Government covered up decades of brutal sexual abuse and beatings by priests and nuns on thousands of children in state care, one of the most damning reports on clerical abuse revealed today.
A nine-year investigation found a catalogue of disturbing and chronic sexual, physical and emotional torture inflicted on disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned youngsters by both religious and lay staff.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse said government officials, those in control of Catholic dioceses, and Congregations of Religious Orders colluded in a culture of silence, turning a blind eye to the violence.
As far back as the 1940s, school inspectors reported broken bones and malnourished children but no action was taken, while tens of thousands of state files on abuse allegations have disappeared, some as recently as 2001.
Catholic Primate of All-Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady apologised and said he was ashamed.
“It documents a shameful catalogue of cruelty, neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, perpetrated against children,” he said.
“I am profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways in these institutions.”
Paedophilia was endemic in boys’ industrial schools. Young pupils suffered rapes, flogging, had their heads shaved as punishment and were openly beaten as a ruthless deterrent to others.
Girls were hit with sticks and rods all over the body, and many suffered sex attacks from lay staff while nuns forced them into workshops from morning until night.
Despite the findings of the harrowing 2,500-page report, in which names of abusers have been changed, no one will be prosecuted.
Judge Sean Ryan, chair of the Commission, said sex abuse was persistent in boys’ schools but warned: “It is impossible to determine the full extent.”
The inquiry revealed – as demonstrated in other sex abuse investigations in the Catholic Church – that paedophiles were moved from school to school each time their behaviour was uncovered.
The judge added: “At best, the abusers were moved, but nothing was done about the harm done to the child. At worst, the child was blamed and seen as corrupted by the sexual activity, and was punished severely.”
The Commission highlighted one instance in Co Kerry when an abusive Brother was moved from a day school to St Joseph’s Industrial School, Tralee, after complaints from parents.
Judge Ryan said: “Such a move displayed a callous disregard for the safety of children in care.”
The report described a Victorian model of childcare that failed to adapt to 20th century conditions. It said children were criminalised, put into care by the courts, some for such petty offences as stealing a chocolate bar.
The largest school in the country, Artane Industrial School in Dublin, was run with military-style discipline which left children defenceless, powerless and subjected to bullying and abuse by staff and pupils.
Daingean Reformatory, Co Offaly, had a lawless prison-like culture with boys facing extreme violence from priests while gangs of older boys imposed their own rule of law, including sexual abuse.
The weaker boys seeking protection had little option but to comply with the demands of the older boys.
Judge Ryan found serious indifference to children’s safety among the religious orders, with only the Rosminian Order praised for its openness and attempts to understand why the abuse happened.
The Christian Brothers, Presentation Brothers, Sisters of Mercy, and the Congregation of Religious of Ireland – an umbrella group for orders – again apologised unreservedly for the abuse suffered in their institutions.
The commission heard evidence from almost 2,000 people who were detained in 216 institutions.
But victim John Walsh, of leading campaign group Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (Soca), called the report a hatchet job that did not investigate why thousands of youngsters were detained unlawfully.
“The little comfort we have is that they acknowledged and vindicated the victims who were raped and sexually abused,” said Mr Walsh.
“But what about the people who detained them, who unlawfully denied them their constitutional rights in the court?
“They weren’t inquired into. The State refused to do it.
“If children were not unlawfully detained, they wouldn’t have been abused anyway.”
The inquiry criticised the Department of Education after discovering Government files on 27,000 children committed to reformatory and industrial schools disappeared, some as recently as 2001.
In a statement, Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe did not refer to the missing files but said: “Child abuse is an abhorrent, inexcusable act whenever and wherever it occurs.
“Unfortunately, we cannot undo the wrongs of the past.
“However, as a responsible and caring society, we must fully face up to the fact that wrong was done and we must learn from the mistakes of the past.”
The report made 21 recommendations, including creating a memorial to victims of abuse inscribed with the formal State apology by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in May 1999 on behalf of the nation.
Other actions to be taken include counselling and educational services, new child-centred policies to prevent child abuse and national guidelines for protection and welfare.