Sunday, May 24, 2009

Abuse by Catholic Church in Ireland

In light of the at-long-last publication of the damning report into institutional child abuse by the Catholic Church in Ireland, my best comment is to point you to two articles and a poem by Sean Matgamna, who has first-hand experience of the brutality of the Christian Brothers.


Savage Violence in Irish Schools: Why Did They Stand For It?
9 February, 2005

The little boy, Tommy, perhaps eight years old, watched the schoolmaster, Sean Gormley, prepare to flog his brother, Mickey. Mickey was a year or two older than Tommy, but smaller.

The procedure was that the boy due to be flogged would climb up, or be lifted up, on the back of a bigger boy, who would reach over his shoulders and hold on to the smaller boy’s hands. The master would then slash again and again, as his mood dictated, at the victim’s backside.

The boy’s short trousers may have been pulled down first. I don’t know. “Flogging” was what they called it, and flogging is what it was. Tommy had seen it before, as had the whole class - had maybe himself been the victim.

As the master slashed at Mickey, Tommy picked up his slate — they used real slates, and chalk — and, moving towards Gormley, flung it at his head. He missed, and the slate clattered against the wall behind the teacher.

Mickey kicked himself free, and the two boys ran out of the schoolroom, across the narrow concreted yard, down the steps, and off towards home.

I have had to “fill in” some of the details, but in its essentials, it is a true story. I heard both Mickey and Tommy, decades later, tell the story more than once. Tommy was not above a bit of embellishment, but he was a truthful man, with a strong contempt for “liars”.

Continues here.


A horror story to learn from
7 February 2008

An 81 year old retired Irish cardinal, Desmond Connell, has gone to the High Court in Dublin for a writ to stop his successor as Archbishop of Dublin from handing over church files on paedophile priests to a state-organised inquiry into clerical abuse of children.

He has called on the court to prevent the head of the Catholic Church in the Dublin diocese from handing over information about criminal priests to the government-appointed investigation. He has got an interim writ, freezing proceedings until there can be a full court hearing. He claims that some of the files contain solicitors’ advice to him, and therefore that they are privileged, exempt from scrutiny without his say-so.

This strange affair deserves the attention of socialists and secularists in Britain.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Primate of the Catholic Church here, who plausibly claims that his is now the most numerous Christian denomination in the country, has a lot to say on social and political questions these days.

A lot of it is reactionary — its attitude to lesbians and gays, for instance.

His overriding concern is to have as large a part as he can of the affairs of society — its mores, its morality, what it allows and what it forbids to the citizen — regulated by the “laws of God”, as his church understands them. In Britain now it is an effort to have society ruled according to the teachings of a church which the big majority does not accept.

The attempt by Murphy O’Connor and his bishops to impose the prejudices of their church so that lesbians and gays could not adopt or foster children is only one recent example.

The Catholic people of Ireland are now once again, in the grotesque Cardinal Connell affair, being unpleasantly reminded of what rule by priests, bishops, and cardinals sometimes has meant for them. For many decades, Catholic priests, members of the Christian Brothers (a monk-like teaching order), and nuns, running Irish schools, orphanages, and reformatories, savagely abused children, beating and raping them.

That they subjected them to relentless and merciless violence was known to everyone. What was not widely known — scarcely known at all, except to its small victims and to maimed and troubled adults who had been small victims — and certainly never discussed in public, was that sexual abuse of children in schools, orphanages, and reformatories, was also an everyday thing.

The abuse of children is now understood to be a feature of all institutions where children are helpless at the mercy of adults. In Ireland, within a loose and light framework of state regulation to check such things as the qualifications of teachers, schools (etc.) were an archipelago of hell-holes run or supervised by priests, Christian Brothers, and nuns.

Officially, Catholic Ireland was a desert of lacerating, arid sexual puritanism — a place where for many decades the average age of marriage was 35, and many lay men and women, never marrying, lived entirely celibate lives.

The poet Patrick Kavanagh — he is also the author of the well-known song, “On Raglan Road” — borrowed the common name for the Famine of the 1840s, in which a million starved to death, the Great Hunger, for the title of a long poem about that, Ireland’s other great hunger.

In that Ireland, the priests and nuns were honoured as paragons and models, demigods more closely connected to the Big God than anyone else could be. They were the moral police for a strict and very puritanical morality.

Continues here.


And finally, I'd never usually recommend Sean's poetry, but I'll make an exception in this case ...


Now, Mary places papers all along the kitchen,
On table, dresser, chairs: small girls at school;
Herself, the nun, alone with children in her den.

Mary is re-enacting school, convent school,
Where little girls are shaped, chastened, cut
By holy women strung alive to God's tight rule.

So she begins to teach: she stiffens, starts to strut
Facing the girls, like nemesis engaged,
A long thin stick in hand. Slowly she starts to “tut”.

“Tut-tut! Tut-tut! Tut-tut!” Soon anger sparks to rage,
Deep-rooted rage: a wounded eye-less Id
Seething with rancid, poisoned life inside a cage.

Now she begins to shout: she scolds her paper kids,
Upbraiding each as little fool, dunce, dim-wit:
Ne'er-do-well, bad little sinful Patsies, Neaves and Brids.

From shouting soon to action: she starts to hit
The table, the dresser, the unfeeling chairs
With the thin stick, face clenched, caught up, reliving it.

She “slaps” the table, the dresser, slashes at every chair:
Wood rings on nerveless wood, with rapid blows,
In frenzied mimic violence, 'till papers tear.

Mary slashes and beats, her eyes fierce that they glow,
Lost in fevered playing at nuns' school,
At home, in deValera's Ireland long ago;
Lost in that wounded re-enactment long ago.


A scene I witnessed. Mary, who would have been about 9,
was a pupil at the girls National school, run by
the Sisters of Mercy, the only girls primary school in Ennis.
These nuns had a reputation amongst the poor of
the town for being very severe and violent with the
children, but selectively so. They were relentlessly
punitive, physically brutal and persecuting with the “Industrial girls”,
who were in their full-time custody, less severe, though still
very severe , with the children of the poor, and noticably less severe,
or not severe at all, with the children of the well-off.

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