Thursday 27 April 2017

Christian Brothers 'trying to stifle debate on abuse'

John Walshe and John Cooney

THE Christian Brothers have been accused of censoring debate about a damning major report on child abuse due to be published today.

The order has told the heads of its 97 schools not to make any comment to the media and to refer any queries to the Edmund Rice Schools Trust which now runs them.

The move was condemned last night by Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay who accused the Trust of trying to "stifle" debate into the report.

The report's five-volume catalogue, which runs to 2,500 pages and cost an estimated €70m, will document the scale of emotional, physical and sexual trauma suffered by innocent children under the care of Catholic priests and nuns.

The report, by Judge Sean Ryan the head of the Child Abuse Commission, is expected to strongly condemn the Catholic Church and the Department of Education for the abuse of children in religious-run institutions.

The abuse, spanning from the mid-1930s to the mid-1990s, took place in industrial schools and reformatories which were run by the Christian Brothers and Sisters of Mercy.

The Christian Brothers were accused of trying to stifle comment after the chief executive of the Edmund Rice Trust, Gerry Bennett, sent an email to principals and secretaries of boards of management.

It said that "there will be publicity surrounding this report. It is possible that some schools may be contacted by members of the media. If this occurs you should note that the Trust has prepared a general response. We would encourage you not to make a response from your individual school, but that you refer any queries to the Edmund Rice Schools Trust".

The Sisters of Mercy are expected to come in for particular criticism from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which was set up exactly nine years ago this month.

The government-appointed commission heard testimony from more than 1,000 victims, many of whom suffered physical or sexual abuse. Most were sent to residential institutions because of poverty, crime or truancy or because there was nowhere else for them to go.

Commenting on the email, Mr Finlay said it was not an appropriate response.

It is understood the letter was sent out even though the Trust has not seen a copy of the report, which it will receive today.

The findings of the 10-year state inquiry, the biggest conducted into how religious orders ran industrial schools, orphanages and reformatories, are expected to be grim.

At stake, too, in addition to the Sisters of Mercy who ran Goldenbridge and the Christian Brothers who ran industrial schools at Artane and Letterfrack, are the reputations of the Oblate Fathers who managed St Conleth Boys' institute in Co Offaly and the Our Lady of Charity nuns who ran the High Park industrial school and Magdalen laundry in Dublin.

Last night a source close to a religious order told the Irish Independent that priests and nuns feared that they would be "scapegoated" in the report and by the media, with less focus being placed on how in harsh economic times many dedicated religious tried to educate and feed children whose care was neglected by the State.

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