Friday, May 22, 2009

Child Abuse

I grew up near a town called Galway in the west of Ireland. Galway is well-known for its tourist attractions, and has some nice beaches and plenty of sightseeing spots nearby. One of the nicer parts of Galway is a place named Salthill which is popular for its beaches and nightlife. I spent a lot of time around Salthill when I was growing up, and had a girlfriend out that way for a few years. We were too young to go into bars or nightclubs, so we spent a lot time hanging around with not much to do.

One person I met while I was hanging around Salthill was a guy named Tom. He didn't live with his parents. Instead he stayed at an "industrial school" in Salthill. Industrial schools were mostly run by priests, and were set up to care for orphans or children who couldn't live with their mother or father for some reason. The idea was that the children could live under the care of priests at the schools, and also learn a trade or skill of some sort that could help them find a job when they were old enough to leave.

The industrial school Tom stayed at was run by priests from an order named the Christian Brothers. When I first heard it was run by priests I thought that it must be an okay place. But Tom used to tell us stories about some things that went on there. He made it sound like an awful place. The Christian Brothers were well known in Ireland for being strict disciplinarians, but the stories Tom told about the behavior of some priests seemed to go far beyond just strict discipline. When I heard some of his stories I used to think that he was making them up, and that a priest would never do some of the things he mentioned. But later on I found out that Tom was telling the truth about what was going on in the school, and that people who thought like I did were completely wrong.

Back in those days, priests were beyond reproach in Irish society. To make an accusation of wrong-doing against a priest was a very serious thing, and it would be hard to get anyone to believe you if you did. So anyone who made an accusation against a priest or religious person would likely be accused of lying.

Very slowly, though, the truth about what was going on in the industrial schools and similar institutions throughout Ireland started to come out. A lot of stories about child abuse in those places began to surface. It become clear that thousands of children had suffered abuse. The Irish government set up a commission to investigate what had happened. The commission took 10 years to report on their investigation. They finally published their report yesterday. You can read more about the report here. Here's the summary of what they found out. Their findings showed that the extent of child abuse was much worse than anyone had ever imagined.

Since the report was published, there's been a surge in calls to a helpline set up for victims of abuse at those institutions. It's clear that a lot more people were abused, but didn't or couldn't report it until now. It's also likely that such kind of child abuse has been going on for many, many years. We're only finding out about some of it now.


  1. Hey Peter,

    Thank You for the eye opening post.

    Something of this nature went on in the church my mom made me go to when I was younger. I completely lost any desire to to ever step foot in a church again after hearing some of the reports.

    I think this is the major downfall of most religions. They operate by extremely strict rules and the holy people are treated like infallible deities. When reports like this are released there whole infrastructure falls apart.

    Thanks again,


  2. Peter, Thanks for sharing this.

    Where I grew up there was a family where the mom was a very respected child psychologist for a nearby school district, and the father a professor at University. Outwardly the were very respectable. Inwardly, it was total chaos with all manner of abuses (sexual, physical, mental) going on. No one would have imagined or believed such things occurred in the apparently ideal suburban home.

    Even the children didn't know what was happening to each individually at the hands of the parents until much much later in life.

    To speak of such things gives them life in the mind of the listener. It can be very difficult for people to accept, and believe 'cause in a very real sense it hurts them too.

    Part of the devil in this is that the people that do actual cruel and despicable things to children also actually do kind and helpful things too. We'd love to paint people black or white, but everyone, to some extent, is a difficult mix.

    I think it is just "in the moment" that any judgment makes sense. But harm is harm and should always be stopped.

    I struggle with this much. This was my home, and those were my parents... whom I love, and hate.

  3. Peter,

    Thank you for sharing this. Its very tragic. I know several "recovering catholics" (their words) who have given up on the religion because of the abusiveness of the nuns and priests in the schools. However I never knew anybody who was inside one of those orphanages or workhouses. It all sounds like a living hell-- something from Charles Dickens with sexual abuse thrown in. I hope those who have suffered will now be able to get some help and understanding and healing. And maybe the catholic church itself can learn to prevent it from happening.

  4. Sad indeed. And there's a lot of these kind of tragic stories all over the world nowadays. Parents are killing themselves with stress and work and innocent children are suffering. Middle Way and Zazen, meditation, caring, compassion, love, simplicity has really something to offer to us all.

    Thank you for lifting this important topic up!

  5. Hey Al,

    Thanks for your comment. I know what you mean about losing desire to go to a church again. As you can imagine, it's happened a lot in Ireland due to these kinds of problems. There's also been a big drop off in the numbers of Irish people joining the priesthood.


  6. Lauren,

    Thanks very much for your comment. I'm very sorry to hear of your troubles growing up. It is a very sad situation.

    It's true what you say about people being a difficult mix, and not just black or white. Even in the case of the report from Ireland, some of the victims spoke of receiving acts of kindness at times. I can understand that it must be extremely difficult to deal with when family members are involved.

    I think what you wrote about just "in the moment" may be true. Like lots of people, I sometimes do things and regret them later. But as you said, harm is harm and should always be stopped.

    I feel that doing zazen has helped me come to terms with some things from my past. I hope doing it helps you in some way too.

    Best regards,

  7. Charles,

    Thanks for your comment. It is very tragic. One report I read mentioned tens of thousands of people being affected by the abuse. I hope they get some understanding and healing too. Certainly, there's a lot more understanding in Ireland now about what happened.

    A part of the problem was that if you made an accusation against a priest no-one would believe you. There's a letter on this page in which one victim wrote that he ran away from the Salthill Industrial school when he was abused. He went straight to the Garda (Irish police) station in Salthill and reported his abuser. But he was laughed at by the policeman. He was told that he should not talk about religious people like that.

    There's a letter on the same page about one victim who tried to make known the story of how he was abused, but he was met with deaf ears. He eventually burned himself alive in despair on Hampstead Heath in London. His story was finally published in 2006.

    I hope the catholic church can learn to prevent it from happening too.


  8. Uku,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with your opinion about the middle way and zazen. We didn't have much information about those things when I was growing up, so I think I was fortunate to be able to learn about them eventually.