Our sinister legacy of abuse

SO often have we heard the words sexual abuse associated with the names of Catholic religious orders, could it be that we have become inured to the vile activities of evil men and women, protected by the cloth and shielded by the State?

The fact that no individual will be named, much less held to account, as a result of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse might suggest that it is so.

Not only does the report avoid names, it actually provides pseudonyms to abusers who have already been found guilty in criminal trials.

Yet we are dealing here with multiple cases of real horror.

Among the thousands of accounts are shameful details of boys and girls being raped, flogged, beaten up, burned, scalded, left hungry and cold and tortured in ways that only perverted sadists could invent.

The numbers of abused and the nature of abuses are so vast that trying to grasp the magnitude of the inhumanity is like trying to visualise the length of a light year, or the depth of the Atlantic ocean.

The extent of the cruelty involved can only be grasped when we hear personal accounts of individual incidents and multiply them a thousand fold.

Christine Buckley remembers the slave labour in Goldenbridge as little girls were forced to make rosary beads for sale, for hours and hours, until their fingers bled. Or the little girl locked up by the nuns in an empty furnace for two days. "We could hear her howls." Or Colm O'Gorman's memory of the disgusting activities of the sexual predator priest Sean Fortune. Or the little boy who had his hand held in boiling water by a Christian Brother just to teach him a lesson.

The Ryan report tells us that Department of Education officials generally dismissed or ignored complaints of child sexual abuse.

Lax inspection, lack of regulation and refusal to accept responsibility are as much a part of life in Ireland today as they were in the '40s or '50s.

Does it follow, therefore, that children of this decade will some day accuse our generation of adults of letting them down, of turning a blind eye, of denying them protection?

In other words, has anything really changed?

Victims who had contributed to this report and who turned up for its launch yesterday, only to be barred from the proceedings and humiliatingly escorted by gardai from the hotel under the gaze of the international press, excluded and marginalised all over again, might be forgiven for thinking that little has changed.

Some declared themselves feeling empty and cheated by the report.

Has the attitude of the Catholic Church changed? In recent months, more than 20 Irish bishops refused to provide an official investigation with details of allegations of abuse against individual priests in their dioceses.

Then there was the long goodbye of Bishop John Magee.

He repeatedly refused to step down after child protection practices in his diocese of Cloyne were found to be inadequate, even dangerous. Dr Magee had the backing of Cardinal Brady and all his fellow bishops, with the lone exception of Archbishop Martin of Dublin.

The question is, who reflects most accurately the mindset of the Vatican in the 21st century -- the cardinal and most of his bishops, or the singular Dr Martin?

Perhaps the Christian Brothers have changed?

A spokesman yesterday still seemed to find it impossible to accept that the abuse had been systemic and not just the work of a few bad apples.

Yet the brotherhood's managers systematically moved abusers around.

At one stage, there were seven known sexual predators based in Artane industrial school. Today, those men are hidden behind pseudonyms.

Perhaps the most serious failing of both church and State was their silence.

None of this would have unfolded had it not been for the determination of a few brave individuals to reclaim their lives and set the record straight.

The thousands of victims, now adults, who then flocked into the light became an irresistible force which has brought about the Ryan report. Yet, somehow, there is a sense of unfinished business.