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Under the collar

For me, one of the most memorable moments in the movie “Schindler’s List” is when well dressed officials began to set up tables, open up their journals, prepare their inkwells and process the lives of human beings as if they were just commodities to be dispensed with like jam, cake and toilet rolls. All that mattered was the system. Everyone involved was a cog, with a defined role, and dare you not deviate from the actions assigned to you.

This image has come into my mind as we in Ireland learn about the atrocities committed on children by members of the Catholic Church during the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s inside “Industrial Schools” – special institutions set up to deal with poor children. And “deal with them” they did, through a regime of mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. 

We have been hearing about clerical child abuse for nearly two decades now in Ireland, but what is truly shocking from the Ryan report is the sheer scale of the problem. It’s a cast of thousands, if not tens of thousands. At the core were the abusers, running into the hundreds. But it didn’t stop there. Many people in high places kept quiet while these thugs did whatever they wished. What were the colleagues, the managers, the principals, the school inspectors, the civil servants, the police, the priests, the judges, the bishops and the politicians doing during this time? What did they know? What did they try to hide? This is the scandal.

There was a system in place. Clinical, effective, and unconscionably evil. This system sought to protect its own integrity above everything else, with little thought to those in its charge. This system resolutely defended the very antithesis of what it set itself up to achieve. They talked about love, but they dealt in cruelty. They talked about hope, but they only brought despair. They talked about caring, but they left a trail of broken people in their wake.

In the case of the Christian Brothers or the Sisters of Mercy, although the time for real accountability has long gone, it’s time they sold all their properties to the state to compensate the abuse victims and got off the stage. They leave behind a shameful legacy and thousands of damaged lives. They should forego their role in the education of the young, or the treatment of the sick. That’s the state’s job, not the job of the religious, who preach love and caring while keeping their dark criminal secrets under lock and key. It’s sickening that any institution, having committed so much evil during their tenure, could have any remaining authority in Irish public life. 

But by and large, it’s all a footnote. These orders started hemorrhaging staff forty years ago. Even when I was in school, you would have been considered half-mad to even contemplate joining the Christian Brothers or the nuns.  What remains, by and large, is a handful of septuagenarians and octogenarians in retirement homes. Most of the real criminals are long dead – saved from the debt they clearly should have repaid in their lifetimes. The bigger issue is the degree to which the authorities collaborated together, and how such collaborations should be identified, exposed and struck down whenever they occur.

For markets to work, there are strict anti-collaboration laws between suppliers, enforceable by harsh penalties. A similar situation applies to the management of the vulnerable. The managers and the regulators must never collaborate. They must never make allowances for each other. Where power rests with just one group, abuses will happen.We need to ensure that all systems of for managing the young, the sick, the elderly and the disabled are more transparent and accountable. We need systems whereby wrongdoing can be corrected quickly for the sake of those who depend on the services of that system. Bad teachers can still get protection from management and from Trade Unions, and from lax inspection regimes. So too can bad nurses, bad doctors, bad police, bad managers and bad civil servants. Even when you take the Catholic Church out of the equation, there is plenty of reason to believe that this generational disease in Irish public life will go on and on.

This link on Paddy Doyle’s website will tell you all you need to know about how much the Church and the State colluded together. It’s shameful and disgusting. 

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