A time of crisis

I’ve come to regard Our Jacob as a place where serious things sometimes crop up, but usually there’s a happy resolution or a soufflé of laughter to balance things out. Not tonight. No fun to be had tonight. The country is quietly convulsing with the publication of the Child Abuse Commission’s report into religious abuses of our children over the last 70 years.

It’s big and it’s ugly. Comes to over 2,600 pages and it’s far beyond sobering. It’s nothing short of hideous. It’s even got its very own unlucky chapter 13 dedicated to the special abuse of special needs children. Fifty eight of them. A heavy thank you to the ever watchful and flinchless eye of Suzy B for this.

I want to gnaw my knuckles off, hide my head. It’s almost 3am but how can I sleep with the weight of this horror? These MONSTERS are beyond my contempt. These people who lived within a comfortable complicity and whose perversions were allowed, through church and state collusion, to flourish at the expense of thousands of defenceless children.


Image by Gerald Scarfe in The Sunday Times

The boards are lit up, around the globe. It’s on The Huffington Post. It’s on the BBC. CBS. It is everywhere. This is not another tired case of some paedophile ruining a child’s life. This is us, the country, Ireland, having to collectively face up to our duties, or our dereliction of them. I am beyond furious, beyond hurt and beyond understanding. I’ve been venting some of the anger over at my friend Bock the Robber‘s site, but to be honest I think if the seas were to be emptied I could fill them again with the rage I feel against so many of the people and institutions against which I have measured myself down the years, only to have found myself wanting.

So I’ll be taking stock of that lost time.

The Catholic Church in Ireland must at this point consider how it will move forward. Meantime, while I try to regain some composure, I will just leave you with a morsel of what’s in the report. This is from that chapter 13, page 241, pertaining specifically to special needs kids.


Witnesses reported that while attending special needs services they were physically abused and assaulted by various means including being hit with leather straps, canes, spade and broom handles, various types of sticks and brushes, kitchen implements, wooden coat hangers and rulers. They also reported having their heads held under water, being put into cold baths, having their hair cut and pulled, being forcibly fed, and being locked in outhouses, sheds and isolated rooms. Witnesses with sensory impairments described the particular fear and trauma associated with being physically abused when they could not see or hear abusers approaching them.

God in Heaven I am angry tonight.


31 comments on “A time of crisis

  1. I’ve found myself only being able to dip into sections of the report at a time. I bubble up with frustration and leave it for a half hour and come back to it again.

    The sheer volume of information is overwhelming.

    I am so angry, and I’m not even sure at who.

    I don’t know where to begin processing all this.

  2. grace says:

    Also angry. I’ve been try to read, and can’t even find words to respond..

  3. Maisie May says:

    I read and enjoy your blog from time to time
    but this has forced me to actually contribute something.

    Is there anything positive we can do with
    these feelings of rage and disgust? I long
    ago cut any ties with Catholicism, I think
    I saw through those powermongers from a young
    age. None of my kids are baptised etc. Is
    this report easier to accept if you have

    I just want to do something now. To feel less
    powerless, to stop feeling so bad. I know
    this is a report on past events but you know
    its still happening. I’m rambling and raving,
    sorry,but I’m struggling to assimilate the
    enormity of this.

  4. Sharon says:

    This is revolting. I want to see a revolution because of it. These people must have no more ties to our schools and hospitals. They are still “looking after” children and adults with learning disabilities, and I have read that there is less than proper state inspection of their facilities, though I can’t verify this now.

  5. Monica says:

    I have not read this report but, at a very early age I knew more about abuse than probably was good for me. My parents were foster parents and the kids and stories we were told still haunt me. Though I don’t believe in blaming one religion, again I have not read any of this so, not sure if that is what it is about. There is abuse in all religions, and all social walks of life. I recently heard a statement that really made me think, “When horrible things happen we should not be questioning where is God in this but rather where and what are God’s people doing about this”

    Nick, Thank you for bringing this to our attention, I plan on reading more on this, nothing is more sad to me than abuse to the most innocent.
    ~praying here in MN~

  6. downsdad says:

    I want to see revolution because of this myself, Sharon. I feel complicit myself, if only for the fact that I do not know as much as I should. I liken this to the fall of Apartheid. The only difference is in numbers. I don’t know yet how to move forward, and don’t want to move forward only in anger in case I do the wrong thing, or not do the right thing effectively enough. And lest you be in doubt, what I said over at Bock’s is not me waiting for retribution or justice to fall on the guilty in the next life. I only put my faith in the judgement of a supreme being for those already dead. For those still alive, out out out. This poison is being lanced. It must be removed fully if we are ever to have faith that it can go away.

    XBox – I’m not surprised at your gagging reflex. 2,600+ pages of damning indictment. That will require a lot of pain to absorb, but it is only second-hand pain.

    Maisie May, I don’t know just yet what we can do. There is an energy to be harnessed without doubt, and a force for good here. Full disclosure of all the guilty parties is step number one to closure, inadequately laughable though that word is. And there is probably efforts can be focussed. Outing the guilty. The wronged deserve that little at least.

    Monica, I wish I didn’t have to write about it. I’m sorry you have to read it. I might have been brass-necked enough not to bother if not for the horrors of Chapter 13. Jacob’s laugh wouldn’t let me ignore that horror.

  7. Sharon says:

    Nick, I appreciate your explanation and am sorry that I implied you were not as interested in justice right now on Bock’s blog. I know what you mean too about acting in anger. I don’t know what to do but need to so something. I am glad I am not charged with meting out justice to these people as I would be made a criminal myself. But I dearly want to see their power diminished to nothing.

    • Nick McGivney says:

      That power is evaporating as I speak. I don’t want to have less respect for church people I genuinely admire today, but somehow I do. And as for the apparatus itself, I think it’s just lost the battle. By the time it’s all over I just don’t know what will replace it, because one likes one’s crutches. And I did not infer what you think from what you wrote. Your sorry is completely unnecessary and unexpected, Sharon. 🙂

  8. […] unfortunately, hate. I am ashamed of my nationality and of my abandoned religion.Other posts:BockNickPaddy […]

  9. Elbog says:

    My heart aches with yours. There is no national exclusivity to this, of course; there seems to be no limit on our capability as a species to harm each other in what should be incomprehensible ways. Living with Emma has taught me so very very much about what it means to be Human, her value, the qualities she brings to life itself – her “limitations” – radically place Love and innocence in sharp contrast to the petty practices of power and selfishness that plague us all.
    That’s really all that I can say, at the moment.

    • Nick McGivney says:

      Elbog, this one is a clincher. No Google maps here, boy. Sick and lost and unsure of so many things right now. Emma and her family are damn lucky to have each other, I’m slowly realising.

  10. NAN P. says:

    I am so shocked, and sad, that I have not reached anger yet! Listening to some testimonies and reading excerpts, I have felt physically sick, and I have cried.

    Ireland, as a country, failed over 41,000 children! Not a single one of them was safe. The Department of Education and the Guardai (police) ignored the complaints, the courts kept sending the children to those institutions for trivial reasons: because they had taken a bar of chocolate, or their mother had died, or it was felt their parents could not take care of them. They were locked away and the key was dropped in the gutter.

    Ireland, as a society, not only allowed it to be perpetuated, not only closed its eyes, but participated, by using some of these children for slave labour.

    The Catholic Church, as an institution, “institutionalised” the abuse: ALL the children were abused either physically, mental, emotionally, or sexually – from the testimonies, more than 50% of boys were sexually abused, some times in front of their peers!

    One of the aspects that shocked me (and has not been raised much) is the degree of terror and fear, not only in the children, but in the adults who tried to speak out, or resist: this “institutional” and “institutionalised” abuse was such that anyone going in these “schools” was either Abuser or Abused. No middle ground. The adults were so pressurised that they always ended up hitting, and mocking, and depriving, and starving, and… I’ll stop here. I am NOT condoning the abusers IN ANYWAY, all I am saying is that the Church has, once again, as an institution, so much to answer for! On a par with the greatest evils of the 20th century, Stalin and Hitler and the systems of terror they put in place.

    I tried to look that volume 3 – chapter 13 you mentioned, but had to stop very quickly, I was in tears, and far too upset to continue.

    And the most worrying thing is that there are still about 500 children in the care of the state in Ireland today, and no real safeguard is in place for them. The family suicide near Wexford last year was just one example of Ireland inc failing… As a society, will we learn?

    Sorry for the length of this comment, it needed coming out!

    • Nick McGivney says:

      Amen and amen and amen. All I wanted to do at three this morning was hit bullies, and I knew the futility of it as I felt it. But what are you to do? I guess there is a process to go through now for anyone whose heart is not stone. A lot of poison must flow, and we might as well do it all now. I understand your reluctance to read Chapter 13. I had to race ahead myself. And no apologies expected or accepted regarding length of comment. Just gratitude for your civilised conversation, Nan.

  11. Emma Mc Ivor says:

    ironically i was at my daughters first introduction evening at her new school for next september.its an educate together school in D7 situated in st jospehs old school, the very same deaf school that is in this report for abuse. i sat there with other loving caring parents in a room that no doubt saw abuse in the past.its horredous to think how blind irish society chose to be regarding our most vulnerable. i hope justice will be done and my generation keep their eyes open wide

    • Nick McGivney says:

      That’s nothing short of chilling, Emma. Today I walked past the squalid, dark rear of the Christian Brothers school on Westland Row and I felt I could smell decades of fear. Animals. Animals.

  12. lisadom says:

    I was hitting the mute button on the radio today as the news came on. I live on a finely balanced edge of positivity in order to be the best parent I can be to the two children I have now. But when I heard a woman from the rape crisis centre on Tom Dunne Newstalk 106 today I listened. She put into words what we are all feeling – and counselled me as to how to cope with what I feel. Feel horror, feel mourning, acknowledge that we are not really shocked; this has been coming for a while and anyone who listens to Joe Duffy for any period will have born witness to the victim’s testimonies. And mourn for them. Mark the day.
    I feel even angrier that the perpetrators are not to be named. This to me would give the victims some peace in that they could say yes – you are guilty and now it is proven.

    I also think the treatment of whistle blowers in these circumstances was beyond bile inducing. The idea that the state allowed the church that much power. That the representives of god were perceived as gods themselves with the power to destroy the lives of anyone who spoke out against them. This attitude is endemic to irish society as whistle blowers are not protected by legislation. And are frowned upon by the general community.

    In a previous educational setting we noticed that a special needs assistant was drunk on two occasions and reported it at a team meeting about our son. Everyone looked embarrassed and would not meet our eyes. (except for one staff member who knew exactly what we meant) even when I mentioned it to other parents, they looked disapproving. And this woman drove the school bus.

    I am not going to read that chapter Nick – don’t have the strength to survive the Strang und Durm. But I will speak out for our people. I felt conflicted about blogging on this. Blogging is about personal feelings and my instinct as soon as I heard of the report was to shout
    “See? this is why we are fighting so hard for our kids to receive an appropriate intervention because we want to keep them OUT OF INSTITUTIONS LIKE THESE!!”

    Kids like mine would have been “offered up” to the Holy Orders to care for and I would have been encouraged to get on with my life, have more children and forget about them. Mothers had to really fight the tide to get the best for a child who had autism – as she recognised it, and keep them at home when everyone was telling her not to bother.

    I’ve lived in Ireland less than 8 years and in that time I have met parents who told me that an elderly neighbor or relative had told them to “focus on their other child” as the autistic child was obviously beyond help, and would be better off sent away.

    And there is still to this day an undercurrent amongst a certain generation that we should shut up and let the “experts” tell us what is best for our kids. Take the adequate over the appropriate.

    it would feel like I was stealing the day from the genuine victims of this institutionalised and epidemic abuse to point out that the failure of the state to recognise the needs of our children today, will be proven as folly tomorrow.

    Today is a national day of mourning.


    • Nick McGivney says:

      There are bound to be more days like this, Hammie. And you isolate quite succinctly the compliance and even the complicity that can still exist in the twinkling of an eye in this little country that has so much good to offer. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We, it is now patently clear, must be the vigilantes.

  13. Mel says:

    I am a kiwi of Irish Catholic descent on my mother’s side. My grandfather was abused in a Catholic Boarding School here in New Zealand after his mother died when he was just 3 years old. As a result, our family are no longer catholics. It did not just happen in Ireland, but all over the world.

    • Nick McGivney says:

      Thanks for jumping in, Mel. Hope that gang of yours are all doing well. Give them an extra hug for me. All this is horrible, but the openness with which people are talking about it really does give me extra hope that we can sort things ourselves. Being transparent between ourselves is a fantastic start, and the web is truly enabling that. I have hope. It’s small, it’s badly bruised and it is hurt, but it’s there.

  14. Not much to say about this at the moment. Don’t want to go there. What is it about people and power, selfishness, pseudo-righteousness, prejudice, abusing the colour of authority…

    I think the openness will bring about healing, but there’s going to be one heck of a scar. (I’m not meaning to be trite here, just at a loss for words)

    • HGF, you’re no different to any of us at present. We’re trying to come to terms with a trust that has been shown to be morally evil, a trust that was supposed to be the gateway to an unexplainable but accepted higher faith. Instead it was an abuse. Lucifer at the dormitory door. We’re all at a loss, and our political leaders sit terrified to speak about it, on the eve of local and European elections. Morally and economically we stand on the edge right now, and it won’t take much to push it over.

      • I know, my friend, I know.
        Nothing can undo what was done. Yet, my hope is that people won’t lose their faith; although it is good to question the ‘rules of religion’. Wolves in sheep’s clothing they were.
        I wonder if this is just a time for the separating of goats and sheep, when it comes to things.

        I was just over at Bock’s place, and heard the impassioned ‘questions and answers to the Minister’….that was tough.

  15. Maire says:

    Just found your blog, its lovely. I remember my mother telling about the abuses in the different homes, how cruel the nuns were etc. The movie, The Magdelene sisters, is a brief, almost kindly look at some of that abuse, given how bad it really was.
    Just turns my stomach, really
    Take care,

  16. Thank you for commenting, Maire. There’s no way we can turn away from this one. It’s huge, it’s beyond Hollywood. I think that we have a choice now, and I certainly am wanting to dwell on this for some time, but then move forward. Some things will have to go, I fear, but some things should never have been there in the first place. I am understanding Martin Luther a little better these days.

  17. Jill says:

    How can it be right that any abusers are protected? They ought to be offered the same protection that they gave the children in their care.

    They should be named. Where is the justice if not?

    Lisadom – you’re comment made me cry, you’re obviously a loving mum (I think I ‘recognise’ you tho – I’m mum to The Boy if that gives a clue)

    • Nick McGivney says:

      Hi Jill. No two ways about it. One system of justice for all. It’s fairly self evident. You’d think.

  18. Suzie says:

    This post is harder to read then your others. My father and I are ex-members of the Catholic church. I find there are stories no matter what the church, but not understanding all of this I get the feeling this is much bigger. It’s so very hard to comprehend the mind of anyone that would and could do something so vulgar to another human being.
    I went to a conference where a session was talking about sexual awareness and the child with a disability, and the likelyhood of my daughter, because she has Down syndrome, being abused is the highest rate of any other group. It’s heartwrenching.
    But, I have to believe that there is a goodness that will come out of things like this in that maybe, just maybe, there will be some individuals saved from the abuse of someone else because this story was made public. Public awareness, public outrage, and public outcry will turn into change. I as a parent of a child with a disability has to believe that.

  19. Nick McGivney says:

    Hi Suzie, lovely to hear from you. Yes, it is horrible, and I hate that people have to read it, but this broke through (in John Banville’s words) ‘a century of looking the other way.’ And some degree of that attaches to most of the people I know, however small and unremarkable it might seem. The acceptance of the whispers, the acknowledgement of the unproven. We had monsters among us and we made them gods in their own small way. No doubt they’ll always be among us, but I can’t imagine us ever again giving them the power that the clergy had here fifty, forty, thirty years ago. I do not mean to demonise the many, many inspirational people who have worked within the Catholic Church, and I know and have known plenty, but just now I can only see how a rotten system allowed – and even encouraged – rotten people to hide within it. We have a huge duty to protect our kids above all, and what should have been a sacred guardian has been shown wanting. And it is especially true for us, with our cargo, as you point out. I share your belief that things will start to change for the better once this horrible situation has been fully brought into the light.
    God bless

  20. lisadom says:

    I hear ya Nick.

  21. Christine says:

    As I Catholic, I am saddened, disgusted, and so angry. I don’t know what else to say that you haven’t already said. Thank you this post. We need stand up and say “No!” and hold people responsible for their despicable deeds. God, help us.

  22. iap337 says:

    I don’t like the setup way you present your poll. You are putting reasons of your own into the mouths of poll casters. I would vote “yes” the Church should police it’s own and punish its own but publishing the names of offenders — NO! This isn’t a media circus where this kind of grime is popular entertainment

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