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Closing The Book On Church Atrocities In Ireland

For those who can't bring themselves to follow the jump on today's NYT front-pager about the widespread abuse of children that took place over several decades (the 1930s through the 1990s) in Irish reformatories run by the Catholic Church, here's a key excerpt from the final report just issued by a state-appointed investigative commission, enumerating some of the many and varied recreational activities enjoyed by the nuns and priests who once ruled these homes for the poor and unwanted:

Punching, flogging, assault and bodily attacks, hitting with the hand, kicking, ear pulling, hair pulling, head shaving, beating on the soles of the feet, burning, scalding, stabbing, severe beatings with or without clothes, being made to kneel and stand in fixed positions for lengthy periods, made to sleep outside overnight, being forced into cold or excessively hot baths and showers, hosed down with cold water before being beaten, beaten while hanging from hooks on the wall, being set upon by dogs, being restrained in order to be beaten, physical assaults by more than one person, and having objects thrown at them.

I admit I'm surprised not to see water-boarding on the list. But maybe the abusers were afraid to get their robes damp. No matter: Sexual assault was also rampant among both genders, with girls often set upon by multiple predators simultaneously, pretty much any place you can imagine:

 dormitories, schools, motor vehicles, bathrooms, staff bedrooms, churches, sacristies, fields, parlors, the residences of clergy, holiday locations and while with godparents and employers.

Pieces of this scandal have been known to the public for a decade or so, thanks to a series of media exposes that ran in the 1990s. Thankfully, the last of the institutions in questioned were closed during that same decade. Since then, apologies have been issued by various church leaders, and well over $1.5 billion has already been paid to more than 10,000 victims ($175 million by the Catholic Church in Ireland; another $1.5 billion or so by "a separate group.")

This report aimed to detail the scope of the problem and to determine the culpability of the church and the government (particularly the department of education) in allowing such an unholy situation to flourish. Its findings: Everyone was guilty. Sadly, the report likely won't do much to bring anyone to justice. Funny how that works: The bigger the problem and the more people who behaved badly, the tougher it is to punish those responsible.

Hopefully, the report will at least provide closure for some of the victims and their families. Although, as part of the healing process, you'd think the Holy See could be bothered to make a statement on the findings. Other church leaders--including the Catholic primate of All Ireland--have responded with appropriate shame and regret. But so far, notes the Times, mum's the word from the Vatican.

Perhaps the head of the Church doesn't feel that there's anything constructive left to say about the horrors, especially since they didn't occur on his watch and the reformatories have all been shuttered. I suppose it's a bureaucratically defensible position. But it's not exactly compassionate--nor especially productive for the leader of a church that's already suffering a serious crisis of moral authority in the developed world.

--Michelle Cottle