Former Bishop of Derry Dr Edward Daly defends Sisters of Nazareth nuns accused of abusing children
The former Bishop of Derry, Dr Edward Daly, has defended the work of the religious order at the centre of child abuse allegations at two children's homes.
Dr Daly said that the Sisters of Nazareth had been "grossly overworked and underfunded" and had cared for children during extremely difficult periods in Northern Ireland's history.
"One wonders what would have happened to the kids had the sisters not been there," the 81 year-old said while giving evidence to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.
The inquiry is currently examining allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at St Joseph's Home, Termonbacca, and Nazareth House Children's home in Bishop Street in Londonderry.
They are the first two of 13 state, church and voluntary institutions under the inquiry's spotlight as it examines abuse here from 1922 to 1995.
Dr Daly, who began working in Derry as a young priest in the late 50s, said a lot of people did not realise how overworked the Sisters were.
"Care of children is very challenging for anybody at any time. The sisters were out in the rain, wind, snow, begging for money. I was as guilty as everyone else of taking them for granted," he added.
He said that during his time as a priest in Derry, where his pastoral district was the Bogside, he had never before experienced such poverty.
"Then in '68 things escalated. There was conflict on the streets every day. It was extraordinarily difficult – deaths, shooting, bombings, murders," Dr Daly added.
Dr Daly said that the Derry Diocese would not have checked the level of care in the two Sisters of Nazareth-run homes as he "had faith in the sisters and no reason to believe other than they were doing excellent work."
"The Bishop did not have control (of the two homes). The Sisters of Nazareth are an autonomous body under their Mother General," he added.
During 36 years in Derry he said he only received one complaint about the Sisters of Nazareth. That complaint was from a woman living in Australia who had been caught up in a child migration scheme and had been split up from her brother.
"That was the only single complaint I had in all those years," he said.
"People came to me with all sorts of complaints about neighbours, police, the Army, paramilitary groups. Nobody, except that one woman, came to me about problems in Nazareth House."
Talking about the practice of corporal punishment in the homes, Dr Daly said: "I went to school in the '40s and corporal punishment was part of life. It shouldn't have been, but it was. I am not saying it was justified, but it was there. I always admired (the Nazareth Sisters) work.
As he concluded giving his evidence to the inquiry, Dr Daly said he has great sympathy for anyone who has been abused, particularly those who suffered "at the hands of people who were committed to Christ either in priesthood, sisterhood or brotherhood."
He added: "I think we have a special responsibility towards them and it is important their experiences are listened to and acknowledged."
Fermanagh-born Dr Edward Daly was famously photographed waving a white handkerchief on Bloody Sunday to protect the wounded as paratroopers fired on civil rights protesters. A friend of former SDLP leader and Nobel peace prize winner John Hume, Dr Daly took part in civil rights marches and strongly supported the peace process. He was a stern critic of the IRA, and in 2011, he controversially called for an end to clerical celibacy.