Shame on the Church, and on Us, for Letting Bad Apples Rot the Barrel

By Ryle Dwyer
Irish Examiner
January 14, 2006

THE Christian Brothers were in the news again this week in relation to a colleague who was apparently handy with his fists.

He got into trouble over assaulting children in Clonmel, so like the other misfits in the order, he was transferred to an industrial school where the children were unlikely to have any parents with clout in the community.

He continued his reign of terror in St Joseph's in Tralee before he was sent to the Glin industrial school where he broke a boy's jaw. He was then banished back to Tralee for six more years.

I grew up in Tralee where local boys essentially had no contact with the boys in the industrial school, known locally as the Monastery. We heard stories about their mistreatment. Most of us had no trouble believing those stories as a result of our own experiences of both physical and sexual abuse.

In my second year of secondary school we had a Christian Brother, Vincent Lyons, a good, decent man, who took an interest in the boys in the industrial school. They had a school band on the lines of the Artane Boys Band, and they had a couple of flag days during the Kingdom County Fair, but the boys were useless at collecting.

It was how you might expect the boy in the TV ad to behave after he had made the mistake of asking for 'more' in the Dickensian school; the Monastery boys seemed terrified to ask for anything. Bro Lyons asked some of us in his class to collect for them. For each of the next four years the same group of us collected, and we would deliver the boxes to the Monastery on the second evening.

The brothers invited us in and gave us lemonade, but I cannot remember any of the boys there ever talking to us. It was if we came from a different world.

Fortunately for us, we did, in a sense.

In the mid-1990s a man told me he had spent one night in the Monastery as a boy, and never forgot it. He had been caught taking food and the Christian Brother, to his eternal credit, asked the gardai to investigate the boy's background, as he felt it was unnatural for a boy to steal food. The boy was being kept in an outhouse away from the family and was essentially left to fend for himself. It was only when the gardai intervened that he found out the people he thought were his parents were not even related to him.

In the Monastery that night the boys told him the brothers were a law unto themselves. They told him the story of Joseph Pyke, who was savagely beaten in the dining hall. He was taken to hospital where he died a few days later, on February 9, 1958. They were convinced the brother got away with murder.

Was there a post mortem? Not bloody likely! It was years before anyone ever bothered to secure a death certificate, and it had a couple of glaring errors. It stated that Joseph Pyke died in the industrial school instead of the hospital, and it gave the cause of death as: "Bilateral Pleural Effusion. Senility. Certified." The boy was 15-years-old and he had certified senility! Of course, that was a mistake. It was later changed to "Septicaemia. Certified."

John Prior, who has campaigned vigorously for an investigation into the death of his colleague Joseph Pyke, witnessed the assault, which was because the boy was not eating, possibly because he had double pneumonia.

During the savage beating the brother burst a carbuncle on the boy's neck and Mr Prior is convinced that this caused the septicaemia. He could have been murdered for all anyone on the outside cared. We will never know the cause of his death for sure because he was buried in a multiple grave and he had no known relatives, so DNA cannot be used to identify his remains.

In discussing the whole thing on his radio programme last Wednesday night, Vincent Browne remarked that the "enduring concern" of people was not the welfare of the children but to protect the Church from scandal at all cost.

"Whatever pain had to be ignored," he added; "whatever abuse had to be covered up."

DAVID Quinn, the Church's current cheerleader, interjected: "This is absolutely and completely true. It happened everywhere... It happened in Britain. It happened in Canada. It happened in America, where (in places) there was no church - or where there was no Catholic Church.

"This is the point; the cover-up was universal - universal until very recent times. People seem to think the Church was uniquely evil in this," Quinn continued. "Evil certainly in what it did, but not uniquely so!"

What in the hell was he saying - the Catholic Church is evil but other institutions are also evil, so it is not uniquely evil - therefore it is not so bad? Would he condone murder on the same fatuous grounds because it is so widespread? Such twaddle is typical of a spurious defence in which somebody exaggerates an allegation and then refutes his own exaggeration. Nobody has seriously suggested the priests or the Irish Christian Brothers were uniquely evil. They did not engage in ethnic cleansing, so they were not the worst either.

There have been examples of paedophile priests in America and perverted Irish Christian Brothers in Canada and Australia. Here the sadists and perverts were moved to where they could continue to prey on innocent children - indeed, the most vulnerable children in industrial schools.

The Christian Brothers, a teaching order, betrayed their very purpose in relation to those children because they did not even provide them with a proper education.

Society ignored that grievous wrong then, and it is compounding the injury now by the outrageous manner in which the allegations of former inmates are suppressed while the defence put forward by the religious is published. That is as perverted a sense of justice as the behaviour of the sadists and perverts.

The idealism of the first two generations of Irish people since independence was expressed magnificently in the huge number of people who had vocations to serve humanity as priests, brothers and nuns. The vast majority of them were good, decent people, but they were betrayed by their own leaders who were more interested in exhibiting a phoney virtue than cleaning out the malignant few in their midst.

They told everyone about the ultimate consequences of a rotten apple in a barrel, but they retained their rotten apples and tried to hide them by covering the barrel.

The consequences should have been obvious, if those leaders had either integrity or intelligence.

It would be best if the Christian Brothers could just disappear, but it is now too late.

In the coming decades the rottenness they preserved will ferment on screens around the globe, as our industrial schools become the 20th century equivalent of the horrors of 19th century Dickensian England. Shame on them, and shame on us for tolerating such vile, hypocritical behaviour.


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