Why were children handed to Church with no questions asked?
Jim was 14 days old when placed with the Sisters of Nazareth at Termonbacca in Derry. What happened to him later disproves suggestions there was no equivalent in the North of the savagery inflicted on children in the Republic.
“The Sister’s knuckles were always scabbed and saturated with iodine from the beatings she handed out. She wore mittens in summer and winter.
“To hear the roars and screams of the orphans was terrifying ... If you wet the bed, you had to run what was known as the gauntlet, down a long, long passageway from the dormitory to the toilets, and as you ran and stumbled you’d be thumped up to a dozen times by the nuns and the monitors ... The senior monitor lined up all the kids and had us stripped naked. It was reminiscent of those pictures of Jews lined up in the concentration camps ...”
The fact that clergy in the South got away with the abuse for decades reflected the deference of State institutions to the Church. But how to explain the timid approach of the Northern State? The ruling Stormont party wasn’t greatly concerned about Catholic children, or about Catholics generally. Schools and ‘homes’ were handed over to the Catholic bishops, no questions asked.
In return, the Church kept its flock as politically quiescent as possible. Meanwhile, Catholic politicians lived in fear of a clout from the crozier. Nationalist candidates weren’t selected, they were anointed. This is key to understanding the absence of inquiry into the shipping to Australia and South Africa of large numbers of children. Scores were exported in job lots from Derry, from Nazareth House (girls) and Termonbacca (boys), to the other side of the world, instructed on board to believe that their families were dead or at least gone, given new names, ordered to forget their true names, before being farmed out for exploitation and abuse in the colonial setting they were bound for.
“I knew that I was Irish and that I was from Derry and that I had a brother,” said June. “I would cry myself to sleep and look forward to dreaming that my brother would come and find me in this foreign country and take me home.”
From arrival in Australia in 1947 until 1991, June made phone calls, wrote letters, pleaded with parliamentarians until, in Perth, at long last, she was handed her records. “There was my birth certificate and my school records. I was 51 and for the first time had something setting out my identity. I stood there in the office and sobbed and sobbed.”
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June’s life was ravaged but she survived the cruelty and scorn in which the Church had held her. Billy hanged himself. He’d had problems with his family.
More relevant was the fact that he’d been seriously abused by clergy running the home he’d been consigned to. “The social worker drove me to the home and handed me over,” said Billy. “I remember the Brother signing for me as if I were some sort of delivery. Then the social worker got into his car and drove away.
“Within 15 minutes, the Brother had my trousers down and was abusing me. I didn’t cry out. I couldn’t speak.”
The pattern continued over the years he spent there. Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has been striving for the past fortnight to distance the Church from the religious orders exposed in the Ryan Report.
But the Ferns scandal, the Cloynes scandal, the huge imminent scandal in Dublin, etc, all have to do with diocesan clergy. One Derry mother described her experience:“I phoned my sister one night at three in the morning and held the phone out and said, ‘Listen to this,’ And she gasped and said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘It’s Ann Marie.’ She was howling. It wasn’t a scream. She was crouched down behind the sofa with my mother and me standing with our hands to our heads.
“She was howling like an animal ... My sister came over and we walked her around the roads all the rest of the night until the dawn came up, the two of us holding on to her. She was sobbing and crying. ... There’s nothing I could do to bring it out in public. I couldn’t bear to have people pointing the finger and saying, ‘There’s the wee girl who was raped by the priest’ ... Harold wrote to (a very senior Catholic cleric with all-Ireland responsibility) and spelt it out in detail, and had an acknowledgement back saying how distressed he was.
“I am not denying he probably was. But he says now that years ago nobody knew about priests and child abuse. He knew about (the priest) and our Ann Marie.
“He knew every detail and didn’t do anything ... I still catch my breath sometimes when I look at Ann Marie. When she’s going out with her friends I wonder what’s she’s thinking, how much she remembers, how heavy it is on her mind. But I can’t ask her. I don’t dare.
“She’s the only one I have and there’s a whole part of her closed off from me. To this day when I am alone, I can think of nothing else.”
When we turn away from the appalling vista on show in the South, perhaps we can turn to Jim, June, Billy, Ann Marie. When will Church and State say sorry to them, too, and make what amends they can?
- All names have been changed