Rejections of abuse by the Christian Brothers are at odds with the Ryan report’s findings, writes PATSY MCGARRY
JUST FIVE days before publication of the Ryan report last month, Br Kevin Mullan of the Christian Brothers insisted in writing that the only form of corporal punishment allowed by the congregation was “moderate slapping on the palms of the hands with the approved leather strap . . .”
He also said the congregation “totally rejects any allegations of systemic abuse . . . or that boys were inadequately fed or clothed . . . and vehemently repudiates all unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse . . . or that sexual activity or emotional or physical abuse amongst the boys was facilitated by lack of vigilance on the part of the staff.”
In a letter to the Residential Institutions Redress Board, dated May 15th, 2009, the Christian Brothers’ province leader, Br Mullan, was responding to allegations made by a former resident of the O’Brien Institute in Dublin.
It was managed by the Christian Brothers and is one of the institutions covered by the State redress scheme for former residents.
It is usual for the Redress Board to contact a relevant congregation on foot of such allegations. There is no onus on the congregation to reply, though it is believed the Christian Brothers have done so generally, and in a similar fashion.
The Ryan report, published on May 20th, concluded of the institutions it investigated, including those for boys run by the Christian Brothers, that “a climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from.”
It found that “children were frequently hungry and food was inadequate, inedible and badly prepared in many schools” and that “clothing was a particular problem in boys’ schools where children often worked for long hours on farms”.
It said educational standards were “consistently poorer than in outside schools” and that “academic education was not seen as a priority for industrial school children”.
It found that “in reality, the industrial training afforded by all schools was of a nature that served the needs of the institution rather than the needs of the child”.
It concluded that “sexual abuse was endemic in boys’ institutions” and that “older boys sexually abused younger boys and the system did not offer protection from bullying of this kind”.
In his May 15th reply to the Redress Board, Br Mullan wrote that the “the only form of corporal punishment allowed by the congregation was moderate slapping on the palms of the hands with an approved leather strap (some 12ins long approx. – including [his italics] shaped ‘handle’ – and without metal inclusions).”
He continued, “No other form of corporal punishment could be condoned by the school authorities, nor could such punishment be administered without sufficient reason.” He said “the congregation totally rejects any allegations of systemic abuse having taken place in the above-mentioned institution, or that boys were inadequately fed or clothed or denied proper medical attention or an appropriate education.”
He continued that the congregation “vehemently repudiates all unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse there of pupils by staff members, or that sexual activity or emotional or physical abuse amongst the boys was facilitated by lack of vigilance on the part of the staff.”
In a similar letter to the Redress Board, dated November 20th last, Br Mullan responded similarly to allegations made by a former resident at the Artane industrial school, that “the only form of corporal punishment allowed by the congregation was moderate slapping . . .”, as above.
He added, however, in this instance that “the congregation does not accept that an overly repressive regime obtained in the institution (Artane), as the applicant alleges”.
He also said the congregation “totally rejects any allegations of systemic abuse having taken place in the above mentioned institution, . . .”
He denied there were the people on the staff at Artane named by the former resident. It later transpired the names of the staff members alluded to had not been spelled correctly.
Where Glin industrial school in Limerick was concerned and St Joseph’s industrial school in Tralee, Br Mullan used the same formula in rejecting all allegations made by former residents.
Where Glin industrial school was concerned, he did so in a letter dated November 7th, 2008, and where St Joseph’s in Tralee was concerned, on July 18th, 2008.
Br Mullan was a member of the team which, along with then Cori secretary general Sr Elizabeth Maxwell and Sr Helena O’Donoghue of the Mercy Sisters, negotiated the 2002 redress agreement with the Government.
A similar stance to all allegations made to the Redress Board was taken by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who managed St Conleth’s reformatory at Daingean, Co Offaly.
An example, seen by The Irish Times , was a short letter by Fr Michael Hughes on February 14th last, in response to allegations by a former resident.