Two years ago I was in a shopping centre in Thurles when I overheard a middle aged woman verbally abusing a young boy of about 12 or 13. I can only assume it was mother and son. There was a man and a teenage girl with them and so it had the appearance of a family unit, although I can never be certain. I remember it vividly, mainly because of the vileness.
“You f**king, fat f**king c**t”, is a statement that is both alien and way off the Richter scale of acceptable communication with a child of any age and therefore sticks in your head even if you don’t want it to. The double expletive was bad enough without the final blow of the ‘c’ word.
What made it worse was that it wasn’t shouted angrily but said viciously with a sneer. While the child looked slightly bewildered and what I would read as slightly hurt, he wasn’t really that bothered. Also the man and the girl didn’t flinch. Did I do anything that day? Did I approach this woman and tell her that I thought her words were damaging and that no matter what the child had done such a statement was unacceptable? Of course I didn’t, I just walked on by, silently thinking how awful it was for the children of such a vile individual.
In that wicked Ireland of the Ryan Commission Report, how many people walked on by and said nothing. How many delivery men noticed the malnourishment of little children in Cappoquin? How many good, decent citizens saw the little faces being marched along in groups and just knew that something was wrong? How many examiners from the Department of Education visited these institutions and never voiced their suspicions?
Evil triumphs in vacuum
What about the official who wanted to start an investigation into the institution in Cappoquin in 1976? The nun in charge stopped him in his tracks and threatened that if the investigation went ahead they would withdraw their care immediately. In hindsight it would have been a good thing, but the official knew that if such a threat was carried out it could cause mayhem in the system trying to re-house so many so quickly and so he stood down and the investigation never went ahead. Over the weekend one woman told me how boys from another ‘home’ used to run away in the 60s and her father would find them hiding on their farm which was nearby. He’d give them food before sending them on their way. She said he always told his own children that this particular institution was a ‘very cruel place’.
My own mother says that as a child she remembers the ‘van coming to take children to the ‘blue school’. How many adults witnessed that and never thought to check up on what went on in these places?
“When good men remain silent, evil triumphs”. It was the cloak of silence and the fear of the religious that allowed this evil to continue for so long. While we may not have widespread institutional abuse today, we still have abuse and sadly still few mechanisms to report it.
I have no doubt that many tears have been shed since the publication of the report; it is only a heart of stone that could remain unaffected. One story alone of a child persecuted in one of these awful dens of depravity that masqueraded as Christian institutions is enough to paralyse the senses. I have been stunned into silence listening to the victims only to feel the numbness dissipate as the hot tears come. I’m not listening or reading any more; not because I am trying to deny what has happened but I know that my tears or my breaking heart can’t help. I know that I can’t reach into the television screen and pull those little, helpless, faces from the grey, grainy images. We can’t rescue them now, it’s too late. And these are the ones who survived; what about those who can’t tell their story or those who were literally beaten to death? Doesn’t it sound like we’re talking about some uncivilised country and not children in the care of Catholic ministers!
When you can cry for total strangers God alone knows the pain of the victims and indeed the victims’ families. I can honestly say that nothing in my lifetime has had the impact of the last few days. I’ve been moved by IRA bombings, terrorist attacks, wartime atrocities, ethnic cleansing, child abductions, but this ongoing, long term abuse of children by people who claimed to be representatives of Jesus Christ is beyond all comprehension.
I am not naïve enough to think that we can stop all abuse. I have no doubt that although the blatant institutional abuse has ceased, we are still seeing the legacy being played out in society. One wonders how many alcoholics, drug addicts, failed lives and current child abusers are the results of these hell holes. We have to say ‘enough’. We need to establish some sort of authority that we, as a public, can report abuse to. There needs to be a special branch that can take swift, investigative action if something is reported and it has to come from the arm of the law.
Yes it needs to be carefully thought through in order to avoid the awful injustices that were carried out in the North of England when children were removed mistakenly, but surely we can devise something. At least it would mean that some sort of positive outcome came from the report.
While jailing or punishing the perpetrators that are still alive may be perceived as giving some closure, it will never give back those stolen childhoods and it certainly won’t help those that might be abused in the future. A well thought out strategy of future prevention is what we need now.
Finally, while I am sure some of the clergy mean well with their talk of atonement, they seem to be missing the point of their own religion.
As followers of Christ they should know that the whole point of Jesus dying on the cross was full atonement for our sins. They can walk from here to America but, according to the Bible, they cannot add to what Christ did on the cross. That is the whole point of Christianity as dictated by the manual! Mind you from what I’ve seen the Vatican seems to care more about its own manmade doctrine with its pointless rules and rituals than it ever did about the actual word of God. Maybe if the ‘Religious’ paid more attention they might have read that “God is love” and Christianity is about “joy, gentleness, goodness, meekness and temperance”; words that were obviously never heard of in certain Orders. I lost all interest in religion a long time ago and ironically found a faith.
Maybe if more people voted with their feet and left this twisted club we might just become a proper Christian nation. I live in hope.