Friday, June 12, 2009

Child abuse by Catholic institutions condemned by Irish marchers

From The TimesJune 11, 2009

Child abuse by Catholic institutions condemned by Irish marchers

David Sharrock, Ireland Correspondent
A sombre silence fell over Dublin yesterday when thousands of men, women and children marched through the capital to highlight decades of abuse in Catholic-run residential institutions, a shameful secret exposed last month by a government report.

Hundreds of thousands of children passed through orphanages and care homes run by religious orders, including the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.

Horrific stories of rape and beatings carried out by sadistic nuns and brothers went unbelieved and ignored for decades until publication of the Ryan report last month unleashed a national wave of anger.

Eighteen religious orders that negotiated a favourable compensation scheme with the Government in return for indemnities have been forced to agree to revisit the agreement.

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The Fianna Fáil Government, which yesterday faced a no-confidence motion after recording its worst results since the 1920s last week in council, European and by-elections, is also under intense pressure to do more for the abuse victims.

That pressure was maintained yesterday by the large, silent demonstration that weaved its way down O’Connell Street past the GPO Building, heart of the 1916 Easter Rising.

At the front of the demonstration was a banner with the words "Cherishing all of the children of the nation equally", a quotation from the 1916 rebel proclamation.

The silence of the marchers, wearing white ribbons on their lapels and carrying children’s shoes to represent the loss of childhood, was respected by onlookers along the route to the Dáil, the Irish parliament.

Workers downed tools as the demonstration passed. The silence lifted outside the Dáil, when Marie Therese O’Loughlin mounted a makeshift stage on a flatbed lorry to describe her childhood with the Sisters of Mercy.

She described how she was forced to wash excrement off younger children with cold water from the toilet and wash their dirty bed sheets before enduring day-long shifts making rosary beads in Goldenbridge, a notorious residential home.

"There are lots of people like me," she told the crowd as they chanted “We want justice” and “Name and shame”.

“This was a mini-Holocaust and the Government and the religious tried to pretend we weren’t hurt in these institutions," she said.

Christine Buckley, another abuse survivor, joined four victims in a wreath-laying ceremony; two black wreaths for the dead and two white for the living.

Applause erupted after the words of a petition, handed to two representatives of the religious orders, were repeated by the crowds: “We, the people of Ireland, join in solidarity and call for justice, accountability, restitution and repatriation for the unimaginable crimes committed against the children of our country by religious orders in 216 or more institutions.” Ms Buckley, one of the first to reveal what had happened to her in the institutions, said she never thought this day would come.

“I wish we had 365 days like this,” she said. “I find it ironic that for once we, the victims, are in front and the religious who abused are behind.

“We have tried and tried to say what happened to 165,000 children in 216 hellholes. Now, finally, we have been vindicated.”

Ms Buckley, who runs a support group, called for a trust to be formed to take money from the religious orders to compensate victims and for them to be penalised if found guilty of any further deception.

“This trust fund should be independent so that means the religious no longer control us,” she said. “We ask that every single payment that was made at the sham of a redress board is revisited.”

The Residential Institutions Redress Board has paid an average of £10,000 to applicants — far below the average £300,000 paid by the Church to Irish victims of paedophile priests.

Ms Buckley added: “If it beggars the religious and they go broke, so be it.”

As 216 black and white balloons were released protesters laid children’s shoes and teddy bears at the gates of the parliament.

Emotions ran high: one protester was briefly detained by police after he threw a pair of shoes over the railings, while others shouted that the building should be stormed.

Another protester shouted that the Pope should “get off his throne and address the Irish people”.

Last week the Pope was briefed by senior Irish clergy on the Ryan report, who said after the meeting that he was visibly upset by the details.

But John Kelly, chairman of Survivors of Child Abuse in Ireland, pleaded with the protesters to maintain their dignity as they had for so many years.

He revealed that hundreds of survivors would attend a reception given by the Mary McAleese, the Irish President, later this month.

“This will have great significance because you were denied your constitutional rights as a child. The constitution didn’t mean anything,” he said. “Now, finally, the state is saying we cherish you as adults. That is very important to us.”

Some abuse survivors arrived in Dublin from the US and many travelled from England to attend the rally.

But organisers were angered that a parliamentary debate on the Ryan report, due to have taken place yesterday, was postponed because of a motion of no confidence in the Government of Brian Cowen.

Mr Justice Sean Ryan criticised religious authorities in his report for covering up their crimes and the Government for colluding in a system where sexual and physical abuse was endemic for decades. It noted that children were also preyed upon by foster parents, volunteer workers and employers.

The report did not identify abusers after a successful legal challenge by the Christian Brothers, which was the largest provider of residential care for boys in Ireland.

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