It is right that the religious should have to pay for the appalling actions of their members, and the cover-ups for which the religious bosses were responsible. But we should not forget the part that the State played.
The sight of a Christian Brother losing it was not pleasant. In fact it could be downright stomach churning – and worse. In one particular case witnessed by an elder of the HP tribe a Brother blew his stack with a young fellow – a fourth class primary school student – who just didn’t understand a primitive mathematical principle. After huffing and puffing and a fair bit of cuffing the Brother went for his leather.
Recollection of what followed still chills the witness. The Brother went into a kind of trance as he whipped the lad, whose only crime, remember, was that he couldn’t understand. From hand to hand he went, four lashes here, four there…
The others in the class lost count. Forty eight, some thought. Others said fifty-two. They were used to counting up to six or eight, but the sustained viciousness of this assault had them bewildered. However many, the skin was literally stripped from his hands.
This boy was fortunate in many ways. His father cared and was sufficiently enraged by this monstrous attack to go to the school and complain.
The Brother disappeared. Just like that. Gone. And that’s the point.
Away he went, to another school or to one of the prison camps for children operated by the Brothers on behalf of the Irish State. That’s how it was done. Shift ’em on down the line, present a moving target, tell nobody nothing. Omerta rules.
You can be sure that fellow did it again, and again. And the probability is that he did time in Artane or Letterfrack, or both. Indeed, the very brutality that had him moved from one school was almost certainly seen as a plus in these other settings.
It chills the blood to consider how this perverted brute and his ilk – numbered in their hundred – were given free rein to physically and sexually abuse thousands of vulnerable children. Single mothers were persecuted, imprisoned without trial in Magdalene Homes. Orphans were taken. Children were removed from homes thought to be at risk by the cruelty police of the ISPCC. Children were routinely seized whose only offence could be summed up in one word: poverty…
It has been likened to a holocaust. Given that the word is now most closely associated with the Nazi extermination of six million Jews, it is not really appropriate. The whole thing is much closer to the Soviet gulag system. Or the transportation of 19th century offenders to Australia.
The thing is, most of the outrage and pain released by the publication of the Ryan report has centred firstly on the horrors perpetrated by abusers in institutions run by almost a score of religious organisations; secondly on the arrogance of the religious orders in their initial refusal to contemplate increasing their contribution to the compensation of the victims; and finally on the divide that has emerged between the 'secular' clergy and the religious orders.
And these are key issues.
But we shouldn't let it rest there. Ogres and trolls may be part of our psychic landscape but this particular take on this horror story goes too easy on everyone else.
Fish swim in the sea. The orders didn't just seize the role of gulag kommandants for themselves. Jansenist priests and bishops had taken control of Irish Catholicism from the early 19th century. They campaigned hard to gain control of primary education when the British introduced the national school system and when the Irish Free State was established they were well placed to relieve the cash-strapped Government of its responsibilities regarding the education and health care of the people, and especially the young. What they wanted was absolute dominance and this was their way of achieving it – of taking the child and delivering the quiescent, boot-licking, sycophantic, cap-tipping Catholic man.
One could go on and on about this. Take, for example, the campaign waged by the hierarchy against the secular vocational education system. They even opposed night classes on the grounds that men and women would attend these together and this might lead to temptation. This is the way their extraordinarily hypocritical minds worked.
Preoccupation with sexuality was a hallmark of their caliphate. They scoured the bushes for courting couples and when they couldn't quite outlaw dancing they took as much control of the venues as they could. They were deeply reactionary, obsessed to the point of disease with the very thing they had sworn themselves off.
Mustn't there have been a close association between the crazed prurience which characterised the State and its thought police and the sexual deviancy of so many clerics?
For two generations they created a society of which the Taliban would have been proud. No, they didn't chop people's hands off, but they locked them up, beat them and buggered them at will. And they were facilitated in all of this by the Government and executive arms of the State. Judge Ryan used the word deference. Abject surrender would be a more accurate way to describe the kowtowing and bowing, the licking and the fawning. To which we can now add connivance and collusion.
It was this wider framework that allowed the torturers, perverts and abusers to flourish. For sure you can heap odium on the vicious heartless motherfuckers, and their organisations and on the fundamentalist lay stormtroopers who walked hand in hand with them.
But never forget the appalling dereliction of duty by the officials and the elected representatives that had their hands on the levers of political power and played along with the psychological prison officers of the Vatican-controlled Gulag.
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