A nine-year investigation into Ireland's Roman Catholic-run institutions has ended with a report saying priests and nuns terrorized thousands of children in workhouse-style schools for decades — and government inspectors failed to stop the abuse.
High Court Justice Sean Ryan on Wednesday unveiled the 2,600-page final report of Ireland's Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse, which is based on testimony from thousands of former students as well as retired officials from more than 250 church-run institutions.
The report is a chronicle of beatings, rapes and humiliation.
More than 30,000 children deemed to be petty thieves, truants or from dysfunctional families — a category that often included unmarried mothers — were sent to Ireland's austere network of industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages and hostels from the 1930s until the last church-run facilities shut in the 1990s.
The report found that molestation and rape were "endemic" in boys' facilities, chiefly run by the Christian Brothers order.
Girls supervised by orders of nuns, chiefly the Sisters of Mercy, suffered much less sexual abuse but experienced frequent assaults and humiliation designed to make them feel worthless.
"In some schools a high level of ritualized beating was routine …Girls were struck with implements designed to maximize pain and were struck on all parts of the body," the report said. "Personal and family denigration was widespread."
'Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from.' —Final report of commission
"A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from," the report concluded.
The Irish report is the latest chapter in a growing list of church-related abuse scandals across the globe, including Canada.
In 2003, 81 victims of abuse at the former Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland were awarded nearly $16 million in compensation for the physical and sexual abuse they were subjected to by the Christian Brothers order that administered the facility.
The orphanage opened in 1875 to care for orphaned and needy boys. It closed in 1990 after charges were brought against brothers for sexually abusing or beating boys who lived in the orphanage in the 1960s and 1970s.
Subsequent police investigations were opened into claims of abuse dating as far back as the 1940s. The case ultimately expanded to include more than 450 victims of alleged sexual abuse over a period of nearly 50 years.
And In 2007, Canada's federal government formalized a $1.9-billion compensation package for more than 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend residential schools.
In the 19th and 20th century, the Anglican, Catholic, United and Presbyterian churches ran the country's residential schools, which aimed to remove aboriginal children from their homes and aggressively assimilating them into Canadian society.
In 1990, Phil Fontaine, then leader of the Association of Manitoba Chiefs and current Assembly of First Nations national chief, called for the churches involved to acknowledge the physical, emotional and sexual abuse endured by students at the schools.
On April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his "sorrow" to a delegation from Canada's Assembly of First Nations for the abuse and "deplorable" treatment that aboriginal students suffered at Roman Catholic Church-run residential schools.
Other churches implicated in the abuse apologized throughout the 1990s.
21 recommendations, but no charges
The Irish report proposed 21 ways the government could recognize past wrongs, including building a permanent memorial, providing counselling and education to victims, and improving Ireland's current child protection services.
But its findings will not be used for criminal prosecutions — in part because the Christian Brothers successfully sued the commission in 2004 to keep the identities of all of its members, dead or alive, unnamed in the report. No real names, whether of victims or perpetrators, appear in the final document.
Irish church leaders and religious orders all declined to comment Wednesday, citing the need to read the massive document first. The Vatican also declined to comment.
The Irish government already has funded a parallel compensation system that has paid 12,000 abuse victims an average of 65,000 euros (just over $100,000 Cdn). About 2,000 claims remain outstanding.
Victims receive payouts only if they waive their rights to sue the state or church. That's in sharp contrast with settlements in cases elsewhere. The $1.9-billion settlement Ottawa agreed to in the residential schools case, for example, does not preclude recipients from pursuing a further claim for sexual or serious physical abuse against individuals or institutions.
In Ireland, hundreds have rejected that condition and taken their abusers and those church employers to court.
Nowhere to turn for help
Wednesday's report said children had no safe way to tell authorities about the assaults they were suffering, particularly the sexual aggression from church officials and older inmates in boys' institutions.
The report said Education Department inspectors visited infrequently, warned church authorities in advance they were coming and typically did not speak to any child residents.
"The management did not listen to or believe children when they complained," the commission found. "At best, the abusers were moved, but nothing was done about the harm done to the child. At worst, the child was blamed and seen as corrupted by the sexual activity, and was punished severely."