Class prejudice and Ireland’s report on child abuse

Last week Ireland’s Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse released a 2,575-page report detailing horrific conditions tens of thousands of children faced in Catholic-run institutions with government collaboration.

The report chronicles ‘endemic and repeated’ sexual, physical and emotional abuse by Catholic priests and nuns to children in the period from 1930 until the Catholic Church-run institutions were closed in the 1990s.

The nine-year inquiry investigated the 60-year period and found that church leaders knew that sexual abuse was ‘endemic,’ and physical, emotional abuse and wide-spread neglect were also features of boys’ and girls’ institutions.

Some children were torn from their mothers because the mothers were unwed. Many grew up thinking they were orphans although their mothers were alive. Critics of the report charge the role played by the Irish Justice System is not illuminated, as children age 2 and up were criminalized simply because they were ‘illegitimate.’

Institutions run by religious orders examined in the report included industrial and reform schools, institutions for the disabled, orphanages and day schools.

The report said sexual abuse was endemic in boys’ schools while in girls’ schools children were subjected to predatory abuse by male employees, visitors, and also during outside placements.

The abuse was rarely reported to government authorities. On the occasions the Department of Education was informed, it colluded with religious orders in silence by dismissing or ignoring sexual abuse complaints and never bringing them to the attention of the police.

“The risk (to children), however, was seen by the congregations in terms of the potential scandal and bad publicity should the abuse be disclosed,” the report stated.

It said the safety of children “in general was not a consideration.” Religious authorities who had evidence of sexual abuse transferred the alleged offenders to other locations, where they were often free to abuse again.

‘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 report found.

The Communist Party of Ireland released a statement condemning the ‘deep class hatred of working people and the rural poor that permeated the state, government and its agencies as well as the Catholic Church itself.’ The CPOI said, ‘This whole horrible feature of Irish society cannot be understood if its class nature is not recoginsed.

‘The report lays bear the horrendous sexual and physical abuse, slave labour and starvation conditions that ten of thousands of children and youth suffered. Whose only crime was that they came from working class families, from the families of rural workers or small farmers, what they all had in common was that they were poor. The state simply rounded up the poor and put them in institutions to suffer unimaginable abuse both physical and sexual.

‘The contempt that the so called caring professions of doctors, teachers,solicitors and judges as well as the total disregard that the institution of the state had for these young people exposed that this state was and is deeply imbued with class prejudice in spite the best efforts to cover it up it is at its very core; its very essence.

‘There is no evidence to show that those who committed these crimes will be made to account for, nor is their any evidence to show that this report like many other before it or the current tribunals will produce any results. The same class prejudice and cozy class relationships are still well entrenched; they still show the same contempt for working people, their families and their communities.’

The CPOI continued, ‘The Catholic Church was one of the strongest institution left behind by the British when the southern Irish state was established. It was the main bulwark against the forces fighting for progressive economic and social change, using its political and cultural influence to control and abuse the people and their deep faith. The carnival of reaction was not just confined to the North of Ireland, Catholicism was used in the South to ensure that the new emerging Irish elites consolidated and maintained their power.’

Compiled by Teresa Albano from CPOI statement, ABC, BBC and CNA news.