Sisters of Nazareth nuns humiliated bed-wetting kids, but it was 'out of ignorance', sister tells the Institutional Abuse Inquiry
A senior nun with the Sisters of Nazareth has admitted that nuns "humiliated" children who were in their care if they wet their bed.
Sister Brenda McCall, a member of the Sisters of Nazareth Congregational Group, was giving evidence to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry when she agreed with claims from alleged victims that some nuns would have punished the children for wetting the bed.
She said this would have been done "out of ignorance".
"I think it has been proved that, yes, in different periods of time, they were humiliated... I think maybe the sisters did not understand fully why children wet the bed," she said.
The inquiry, which is sitting in Banbridge, is examining claims of abuse at 13 Catholic Church and State-run homes and training centres in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 1995.
Sister Brenda, who had no direct knowledge of any of the allegations, also agreed that on some occasions nuns would not have forwarded family letters to a child who had been placed in the care of the Sisters of Nazareth.
She said that if one of the sisters thought the letter would be too distressing for the child it would not be passed on.
She admitted that in "earlier days" steps were not taken to encourage familial relationships and siblings were often separated.
However, she added: "In later years the sisters strived to ensure all families were kept together."
Sister Brenda denied allegations that children at the institutions were called by numbers rather than by name, or that toys were taken from children by the nuns.
She also denied claims that children were "demeaned" at bath time by having to line up naked, but admitted that Jeyes fluid would have been used on occasion to prevent an outbreak of head or body lice.
The inquiry heard that resources at some children's homes were "inadequate" – including St Joseph's Home, Termonbacca, and Nazareth House, both in Londonderry, which have been the focus of the first stage of the inquiry.
Sister Brenda said that in some cases two nuns were left caring for up to 70 children. She said that despite knowing they could not cope due to the lack of resources, it was not the ethos of the Sisters of Nazareth to refuse a child.
She said she was not aware of any attempt to refer any children to the statutory sector because their parents had either wanted them brought up in the Catholic faith or had requested that social services not be involved.
Earlier a nun who looked after children at St Joseph's strenuously denied allegations that she force-fed a child until she vomited, beat another for wetting the bed, hit a young boy with a fishing rod for bed-wetting, and grabbed a child by the throat.
She said it was the policy of the sisters to look after the young boys like they would "the child Jesus" and the girls "as if it was the Blessed Lady".
"I gave the best part of my life to caring for the kids at Nazareth House. I loved them. I can't undo what people have said about me," she added.