Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has shown a refreshing frankness in talking about the widespread abuse of children in Catholic-run schools and orphanages documented in the Ryan report last week. In an op-ed page piece for the Irish Times today, he described himself as shocked but not totally surprised and recalled hearing about the abuse from victims up to 40 years ago. He refers to reporting by “a few courageous and isolated journalists like Michael Viney,” whose series on abuse appeared in the Irish Times in 1966. (Photo: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin/Dublin Archdiocese)
“The stories they told then were not radically different from what the Ryan report presents, albeit in a systemic and objective way which reveals the horror in its integrity,” he wrote. “Anyone who had contact with ex-residents of Irish industrial schools at that time knew that what those schools were offering was, to put it mildly, poor-quality childcare by the standards of the time. The information was there.”
The official Church reaction in Ireland has been shame and apologies all around, starting with Cardinal Sean Brady. It included apologies from the Christian Brothers, a teaching order with a reputation for stern discipline and abuse charges that won a lawsuit to bar the report from naming abusers. These were certainly appropriate. What was missing, though, was the admission that the problem was well known, even if all the details were not. There was even a film made about one of these schools, The Magdelene Sisters, that won the Golden Lion at the 2002 Biennale Venice Film Festival. (Photo: Papal Cross in Phoenix Park in Dublin, 20 May 2009/Cathal McNaughton)
Irish novelist John Banville tackled this in an op-ed piece for the New York Times on Friday:
Everyone knew. When the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse issued its report this week, after nine years of investigation, the Irish collectively threw up their hands in horror, asking that question we have heard so often, from so many parts of the world, throughout the past century: How could it happen?