23 May 2009

'. . . my clothes and teddy thrown away' 'They took my identity from me'

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse set up by the Irish government nine years ago issued its report last Wednesday. The full report and the Executive Summary are available on the commission’s website.
Today’s Irish Times carries an article, The abused – in their own words.

The article begins: The voices of the abused emerge raw and bleak from pages 113 to 119 of Volume V of the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. They told their stories to an interviewing team. In an introductory note to the section, the team acknowledged their courage: “We were deeply moved, inspired and humbled by our contact with you. Although we spent only a few hours with you, meeting you and listening to your stories was a moving and enriching experience for all of us. We felt privileged and honoured that you trusted us with such intensely personal and private experiences. . .” Here are sample extracts – unedited – of what the team heard.

Two statements of victims recounting the ‘worst thing’ that had happened to them and taken from the report and published in today’s Irish Times really hit me. One was, The night I entered the institution, my clothes and teddy thrown away.

Here in Bacolod I am involved with Holy Family Home and when a new girl arrives one of the first things she is given, no matter how young or old she is, is a teddy-bear or other soft toy. This was one of the first things I noticed when I first visited there late in 2002 and was shown around by a group of the girls. My Columban colleague, Fr Gary Walker, noticed the same thing when he visited and wrote about Holy Family Home.

The other statement that really hit me was, They made me change my surname and beat me until I accepted it. They took my identity from me. The put me through mental torture which is still with me now. They separated me from my sister and sent her to another institution.

This was precisely the aspect of the horror of the Holocaust that Pope Benedict spoke about last week at Yad Vashem. He took as his theme I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name … I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off (Is 56:5). He said, One can rob a neighbor of possessions, opportunity or freedom. One can weave an insidious web of lies to convince others that certain groups are undeserving of respect. Yet, try as one might, one can never take away the name of a fellow human being.

Yet that is what religious did to this young girl.

What Pope Benedict said in Jerusalem about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust could be said about all the victims in this awful report: Gazing upon the faces reflected in the pool that lies in stillness within this memorial, one cannot help but recall how each of them bears a name. I can only imagine the joyful expectation of their parents as they anxiously awaited the birth of their children. What name shall we give this child? What is to become of him or her? Who could have imagined that they would be condemned to such a deplorable fate!

As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood

Nazism was godless. The people interviewed for the Ryan Report had their childhood stolen and were treated as dirt by people who had once dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ. How did those religious sisters and brothers become so corrupted?

I was educated by the Christian Brothers for ten years and am profoundly grateful to them. They had a reputation for being tough. My father used to tell me stories of brutal beatings he saw in school by some Brothers and by some lay teachers. I never saw anything like that, though corporal punishment was still legal in Ireland. I did get a few ‘biffs’ with a leather strap on the palm of the hand from time to time, as did most of us. But that was the norm and our parents supported it. I never saw a teacher punishing excessively.

But did the Brothers I knew and admired know what was going on in some of their own institutions? One of them was St Joseph’s, Artane. Artane is a district in the northeast of Dublin city. Parents in Dublin, including my own, sometimes threatened to send us to ‘Artane’. The message I got was to behave myself but I never took the threat itself as serious. I doubt if my parents were aware of any excessive cruelty there but clearly they saw it as a place where no boy would want to go.

It is impossible to equate what the Ryan Report tells us was done in the name of Jesus, of his Mother and of St Joseph with a living faith in a loving Redeemer who died for us on the Cross.

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