A commission in Ireland — appointed some 9 years ago to catalog and report on abuses by Roman Catholic institutions meant to house “wayward” children — has finally issued a report on the matter. Though the institutions in question were all closed by the 1990s, revelations of these abuses were a scandal in Ireland that the commission had been appointed to address. It is a damning report listing indescribable abuses, and shows how both Roman Catholic Church officials, and the government of Ireland, cooperated in a scheme which in some cases amounted to institutionalized slavery. The New York Times reports (WebCite cached article):

Tens of thousands of Irish children were sexually, physically and emotionally abused by nuns, priests and others over 60 years in a network of church-run residential schools meant to care for the poor, the vulnerable and the unwanted, according to a report released in Dublin on Wednesday.

The 2,600-page report paints a picture of institutions run more like Dickensian orphanages than 20th-century schools, characterized by privation and cruelty that could be both casual and choreographed.

“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions,” the report says. In the boys’ schools, it says, sexual abuse was “endemic.”

The length of time it took to produce this report is, perhaps, a reflection of internal interference within the Irish government, which had actually cooperated and fueled the Church’s institutions, as well as a lawsuit by a Church order:

It was delayed because of a lawsuit brought by the Christian Brothers, the religious order that ran many of the boys’ schools and that fought, ultimately successfully, to have the abusers’ names omitted. In 2003, the commission’s first chairwoman resigned, saying that Ireland’s Department of Education had refused to release crucial documents. …

It exposes for the first time the scope of the problem in Ireland, as well as how the government and the church colluded in perpetuating an abusive system. The revelations have also had the effect of stripping the Catholic Church, which once set the agenda in Ireland, of much of its moral authority and political power.

The report singles out Ireland’s Department of Education, meant to regulate the schools, for running “toothless” inspections that overlooked glaring problems and deferred to church authority.

It’s understandable, then, that some in Ireland’s government had tried to hinder this investigation … their culpability in this scheme to abuse and enslave children has been exposed.

The reality of this systemic abuse got major international attention in 2002 with the release of a movie about the so-called “Magdalene asylums” (or “Magdalene laundries”), called The Magdalene Sisters. News programs in the US followed this with presentations on the issue. But while the Magdalene asylums were scandalous enough, the abuse, it turns out, was much wider in scope than that.

Given that the Roman Catholic Church holds itself up as the sole arbiter of morality and ethics in the world, one would think the Church has something to say in the wake of the commission’s report. An apology at the very least. But guess again:

The Vatican had no response. But leaders of various religious orders — who often argued during the investigations that the abuse was a relic of another time, reflecting past societal standards — issued abject apologies on Wednesday, taking care to frame the problem as something that is now behind them.

Cardinal Sean Brady, the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, said in a statement that he was “profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed,” adding, “I hope the publication of today’s report will help heal the hurts of victims and address the wrongs of the past.”

Essentially the Vatican is ducking the issue completely, and the religious orders that orchestrated these crimes are mouthing mild admissions and insincere well-wishes for the abused, in order to evade civil lawsuits that have been filed against them. (The Vatican officially condemned The Magdalene Sisters when it was released, and called for a boycott of it, so silence from the Holy See is an improvement on that … I guess.)

The next time the Roman Catholic Church tells you what’s moral and what isn’t, remember their ineffective, insincere and evasive response to this travesty. Oh, and when a Catholic tells you that atrocities such as the Inquisitions are “a thing of the past,” you might remind them that there are very likely still Catholic nuns, priests and brothers in Ireland, who’d once been part of this slavery scheme — one for which they have not even yet been brought to justice.

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