Long before Pennsylvania’s predator priests were exposed for allegedly abusing more than 1,000 kids, the Catholic Church in Ireland was shamed for its treatment of 30,000 victims.
ROME—The scandals are nearly a decade apart, but there are stunning similarities between the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse of 1,000 children by hundreds of priests and the exhaustive reports published in 2009 about horrors inside Ireland’s Catholic institutions that affected tens of thousands of children.
What we keep learning and re-learning is that church leaders—and just as often the secular authorities—pretend that the rot in the clergy is contained geographically to this diocese or that, this state or another, this country or another. It’s always “there” and “their fault.” But that’s a lie.
The huge body of evidence suggests the plague of clerical pedophilia can be found almost anywhere, but that it is “discovered” only when public denunciations reach a critical mass, as it were, and the headlines explode.
Pope Francis must address that sordid reality directly on his visit to Ireland this weekend, where the church has long faced demands for a clear, powerful, unequivocal program of action, not just thoughts and prayers and scriptural references. And there is no better venue than Ireland for something more than another mea culpa. It was the scene of so much evil in years past that, from the 2009 reports, it seems a Catholic version of Mordor.
But whatever pressure there was for the 81-year-old pontiff to take a bold initiative before has been compounded by the Pennsylvania revelations, and what should be his realization that his belated “letter to the people of God” published Monday, lamenting that “we showed no care for the little ones,” while tough, simply isn’t enough.
“A high level of ritualized beating was a routine. Girls were struck with implements designed to maximize pain and were struck on all parts of the body.”
— The Ryan Report
When Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality released the 2009 reports, few thought the Irish church would ever recover. The ghastly findings about Catholic orphanages, schools, the Magdalen Laundries, and other institutions throughout the country, and in particular situations in the Dublin archdiocese, were every bit as scandalous as those coming out of Pennsylvania last week.
Just one relatively tame example: “In some schools a high level of ritualized beating was a routine. Girls were struck with implements designed to maximize pain and were struck on all parts of the body.”
Sean Ryan, the high court judge who wrote the 2,600 page nationwide report that bears his name, called the atrocities “endemic” in the Irish church. More than 30,000 children, many of them young girls from dysfunctional families or unwed teen mothers, were sent to Catholic facilities between the 1930s and 1960s. Their babies were taken from them and given away and the women kept to work in the Magdalene Laundries. The youngest victim in the report was nine. The oldest was 89. Mass graves were found on the grounds of several church properties.