A report published yesterday after a ten year delay by the Child Abuse Commission highlighted that sexual abuse was ‘chronic’ in the Christian Brothers’ industrial school at Letterfrack.
The report revealed that for two thirds of the relevant period (1936 to present ) there was at least one sexual abuser in the school, for almost one third of the period there were two abusers in the school and at times there were three abusers working in Letterfrack at the same time.
Two abusers were present for periods of 14 years each and the Congregation could offer no explanation as to how these Brothers could have remained in the School for so long, undetected and unreported.
According to the lengthy report, the Letterfrack school run by the Christian Brothers was described as an inhospitable, bleak, and isolated institution. Physical punishment was severe, excessive, pervasive and, being administered in public or within earshot of other children, and it was used as a means of engendering fear and ensuring control.
A decision in 1954 to reduce numbers in Letterfrack to a bare minimum had serious reprecussions for the physical welfare of the boys.
According to the report, Salthill Industrial School was the only Christian Brothers’ Industrial School to survive beyond the mid 1970s. The Congregation handed over management of the School to the Western Health Board in 1995. Documents showed that violent Brothers who were moved around from one school to another continued their violent behaviour.
In Salthill, one Brother, who had been described as cruel in Letterfrack, continued his severe treatment of boys in Salthill, and another continued his harshness in schools he was assigned to after Salthill.
Internal Christian Brothers’ reports identified a ‘severity in attitude’ towards the boys in the 1950s and records indicated a concern with six Brothers who had served in Salthill, with regard to physical punishment.
The documents implicated five Brothers, one care worker who was a former resident, and another ex-resident who returned after discharge, in sexual abuse allegations. The Salthill report also deals with a relatively recent allegation of sexual abuse against a Brother who had been transferred from Salthill “following a grave indiscretion with one of the boys” in the early 1960s. The treatment of a boy who alleged sexual abuse against this Brother some 20 years later by Congregational Authorities was shameful and disturbing, the report stated.
The Sisters of Mercy Industrial School in Clifden was also dealt with in the report. The institution was said to be strongly affected by the personality of the Resident Manager who was in office from 1936 to 1969. She was described by complainants and respondent witnesses as a strict, harsh woman who ruled and dominated all aspects of life in the institution.
She treated the school as her personal domain and worked a punishing schedule with little help or support. She was unable to give the children the care they needed and used harsh physical punishment not just to correct misbehaviour, but also to enforce discipline and order.
The Commission has received thousands of complaints and listed problems in institutions right across the country. Two recomendations were made by the commission, to alleviate or otherwise address the effects of the abuse on those who suffered. The second is to prevent where possible and reduce the incidence of abuse of children in institutions and to protect children from such abuse. In addition to these recommendations the Commission proposes a memorial to be erected for victims of abuse in institutions as a permanent public acknowledgement of their experiences.
In response to the report, The Christian Brothers have offered an apology to victims. They have stated that due to the comprehensive nature of the report, they will respond fully after an examination of its findings and recommendations.
“The Christian Brothers apologise openly and unreservedly to all those who have been hurt either directly or indirectly as a result of the deplorable actions of some Brothers, or by the inaction or inappropriate action of the Congregation as a whole. We are deeply sorry for the hurt caused. We are ashamed and saddened that many who complained of abuse were not listened to. We acknowledge and regret that our responses to physical and sexual abuse failed to consider the long term psychological effects on children”.