Abuse in Institutions

One in Four [Ireland]
Downloaded November 1, 2003

The sooner the Government reactivates investigations by the former Laffoy Commission into childhood abuse in religious institutions, the better.

The victims of abuse must be provided with an independent forum in which they can tell their stories and seek redress. Only about 40 cases, out of an estimated 1,700, were dealt with by Ms Justice Laffoy before she resigned in protest against obstruction by the Department of Education and by some religious institutions.

A statement from the Christian Brothers at the weekend, in which the organisation acknowledged that "some abuse had taken place", while rejecting the "perception that there was widespread, systematic sexual abuse in their residential institutions" has caused considerable controversy. The organisation said the vast majority of brothers and former brothers against whom allegations had been made, rejected them and strongly protested their innocence. And it added that complaints had been made against named people who did not correspond with any person who worked with the residential institutions or who had been a member of the Christian Brothers.

The statement was welcomed by an organisation entitled LOVE (Let Our Voices Emerge), composed of people with positive memories of residential schools run by the religious. But it was condemned as a return to the mindset of denial by some organisations representing the victims of clerical sexual abuse.

Earlier this month, the Christian Brothers lost a case in the High Court in which they challenged the authority of the Laffoy Commission to name living and deceased persons it considered responsible, after hearing evidence, for abusing children in their care. An appeal to the Supreme Court is being considered.

Few, if any, people would hold there was widespread, systematic sexual abuse. The word "systematic", carefully chosen by the Christian Brothers, suggests planned, methodical behaviour at an official level. The picture that is emerging, however, is of a failure by those in authority to act decisively when allegations of sexual abuse were brought to their attention. If action was taken, it sometimes involved exporting the problem to Australia or to Canada. But where cover-ups occurred, senior Christian Brothers were no more culpable than some members of the Hierarchy.

The only way in which the scale of abuse in those institutions can be established is through the kind of hearings the Christian Brothers opposed in the Laffoy Commission. The commission must continue its work.


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