Religious order was neither Christian nor brotherly
Former Christian Brothers’ pupil Malachi O’Doherty says the Ryan report is proof that Irish schools are well-rid of the order’s baleful influence
Published 22/05/2009 | 09:03
Thousands of men of my generation were taught by the Irish Christian Brothers. We are in the media, the legal profession, schools, the Civil Service and virtually every walk of life.
When we meet we have our stories to share about men with nicknames like ‘The Boss’, ‘Kipperhead’ and ‘Wee Bo’.
There is a division of opinion among us about what sort of men they were.
I remember many of the Brothers as moody and unhappy men given to occasional violence against children.
In a conversation recently with one of my old teachers I said that Kipperhead should have gone to jail for the way he behaved. The indulgent manner in which he beat boys was illegal even by the standards of the time.
The old teacher did not agree with me. He expressed himself appalled that I should say such a thing.
And I have been confronted by people who remember those days and are profoundly shocked by things I have said about some of the Brothers. The arguments they use are that their behaviour was, if anything, milder than the behaviour of lay teachers in the same schools, which is true, or that “things were different then”.
The disclosures in the Ryan report about the behaviour of the Christian Brothers in the industrial schools surely finishes off any respect it is possible to have for the men of that order.
The atrocities that they committed against children were so numerous and widespread and so severe that it seems unlikely that even the gentler men of the order knew nothing about them.
They must have known.
They must have had some idea that their own colleagues were indulging themselves so cruelly.
The shocking word in the report is ‘endemic'. It is not applied to the things that we were familiar with, such as corporal punishment or scowling. It is applied to rape.
This is hard to reconcile with the memory of men who, for all that they were unhappy and aggressive, had no reputation for sexual malice.
The Ryan report deals with the industrial schools and other institutions in which children were placed in the Republic, mostly since 1940.
These were effectively prisons in which torture was practised, though you didn't need to have been guilty of any offence to be placed in one.
They were places in which men and women who had committed themselves to a religious life became steeped in squalid barbarism.
And the Church, knowing this, covered for them.
And the state paid the bills and looked the other way.
In every stage of the unfolding of the story of child abuse by priests and members of religious orders the revelations have become more astonishing and difficult to comprehend. Many of the victims have criticised the report for merely telling us what we knew before.
I doubt many of us knew the scale of abuse and cruelty outlined in the report, or would have believed it just a few years ago.
Some of the Brothers who taught in our schools are still remembered with affection and respect by many of those teachers and civil servants who were educated by them.
That respect has to be called into question now.
At a recent ceremony in Dromantine Abbey, in the presence of Cardinal Sean Brady and our Edcuation Minister Caitriona Ruane, the Christian Brothers handed over responsibility for their schools to a new trust, which would preserve and perpetuate their values.
God forbid that it should.
There are, thankfully, no Brothers teaching in Ireland now.
At the ceremony many former pupils spoke of the great contribution which this religious order made to this society.
It is hard to conceive of anyone being able to speak well of these men after this report.
It is surely impossible to argue now that Irish society is richer for the work done by that order and others like it.
They ran care homes like rape camps — and they still want to be thought well of?
Well, some of them are, but even they now must answer for their silence and compliance down through the years in the filth that their ‘Brothers' spewed over this land.