Friday 24 May 2019

Retribution demands a reformation

Within those cold austere walls one group of victims met another, and the result was unspeakable cruelty, writes Anne Harris

So far, it has been an Irish solution to an Irish scandal. Since the publication of the Ryan Report, we have run the gamut of Irish responses. Fierce, tired and ancient hatreds have been taken out and re-run: hatreds of Government, church and even the British.

The hatreds gave energy -- the Opposition played politics, the Government played PR and the media scaped the wrong goat. As always, the real criminals took refuge in the mayhem

First, to get rid of the distractions. The State was responsible for every one of the 25,000 children who were sent to the industrial schools. The compensation row is the wrong row. The State is indubitably liable for the injuries done to the thousands, and must pay the price. The Church must pay, too. But the Church's liability transcends legalities. The retribution of society demands a reformation.

And the rest of us? As long as we displace to avoid our own guilt, an impenetrable hardcore of denial can be maintained. Like how can almost 2,000 cases of abuse occur over the course of 40 years and not one single criminal prosecution follow? Two thousand abuses and not one single prosecution. Hold that thought.

Decades on, yes, we have faced certain things.

Like that within 20 years of throwing off the yoke of the "colonial oppressor" and promising "to cherish the children of the nation equally", we sent a flood of child fodder to the industrial school system. The system which brutalised at least 2,000 children. Add to that the tragic coincidence of the economic war which guaranteed another flood -- the flood of abusers to the system. Because as Irish farms grew depleted, the seminaries swelled with malnourished young men.

They came as young as 13 from the stony grey farms where there wasn't enough money to feed them, still less to educate them. The cold austere walls which enclosed them were without woman or warmth. They were people without status and they were sent to places incapable of creating -- or even imagining -- emotional sustenance. And in these emotionally impoverished conditions people turned to cruelty.

The industrial schools were the place where one group of victims met another. It was WH Auden who put it best.

"I and the public know what all schoolchildren learn/ Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return."

In the industrial schools "the wicked card was dealt"(Auden) and violence and brutality had mastery. And yet not a single criminal prosecution.

Now anyone who has followed the events in child care homes in North Wales, or the recent social history of Belgium, knows that the sexual abuse of children often occurred without criminal prosecution. The reason was the paedophile rings had penetrated the highest echelons of society.

Was the Irish Catholic Church a hiding place for one of the biggest

paedophile rings ever known? And are we still in denial?

Common sense dictates that child abuse in Ireland cannot have differed vastly from other countries. Child abuse takes place where it can and because it can. Paedophile rings are set up by people of like tastes who move around and attract more people of like tastes. And everything is secret.The reason is the paedophile ring's ability to penetrate society at every level.

In many ways, the institutions of the Church were the perfect environment in which a paedophile ring could flourish. They were totalitarian; no dissent was entertained. Where things are over structured, there will always be secrecy and hiding.

We know that the Church knew. But they dealt with it in a secret circle.

The average Christian Brother was not part of a paedophile ring. They were part of something else. But I suspect that against the backdrop of appalling emotional impoverishment, a smart, slick circle moved.

And that smart slick circle could have known that the Christian Brothers, misbegotten souls, had their own guilt about what was going on.

The children, needless to say, had no power. And the Church itself, by its actions and inactions, had no moral authority.

And they have less now.

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