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Artane Not an Abusive Institution, says Brother

Added on to on September 16, 2005

Artane not an abusive institution, says Brother

Irish Times, 16/09/2005

A senior leader of the Christian Brothers has said that the congregation accepted there were instances of physical and sexual abuse carried out by individuals at the industrial school in Artane in Dublin.

However, Brother Michael Reynolds, deputy leader of St Mary's Province, said the idea that Artane was an abusive institution was incorrect.

Giving evidence before the Investigation Committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse yesterday, Brother Reynolds said that, in the round, Artane was "a positive institution".

He said there was archival documentation verifying six cases of sexual abuse at Artane. There was also documentary evidence of 11 cases of excessive physical punishment and 14 cases of neglect.

Brother Reynolds said that there was inadequate understanding of sexual abuse in the 1930s and 40s as well as a lack of awareness of the long-term psychological damage caused by abuse. He said that the congregation had viewed the issue as a moral problem and failure rather than a crime.

He confirmed that in none of the six documented cases of abuse at Artane had the Garda been informed, even where the perpetrator had made an admission.

He strongly denied that the Christian Brothers had engaged in a cover-up. He said that, in the documented cases in Artane, action had been taken swiftly and in most instances the Brothers involved had been dismissed from the congregation. However, he accepted that these cases had not been adequately dealt with by present-day standards and that the effects on young people concerned had not been addressed sufficiently at all.

The committee was told of a letter written in 1938 to the provincial of the Christian Brothers, which maintained that the person who had abused a child "was more to be pitied than censured".

Asked about the letter, Brother Reynolds said he had no idea what it meant but that he did not agree with it.

A second letter, from 1959, maintained that a Brother who had been found to have been involved in abuse was aware that "the collar had saved him from jail".

Brother Reynolds said that the most serious documented case of physical abuse involved a boy who had his arm broken. The Christian Brother involved had been transferred from Artane to another school. Brother Reynolds said that this case had been handled badly by the congregation.

He said that, in recent years, media coverage of the school, which operated from 1870 to 1969, had been seriously unbalanced.

The Christian Brothers said that boys were well-cared for at Artane, with nourishing food and good clothing, and that the school regularly received favourable reports from the Department of Education. The death rate among students was lower than the national average. Brother Reynolds maintained that the primary school provided an excellent education although there was ongoing debate about the value of training for trade provided.

The Christian Brothers said that sporting and cultural activities were well catered for. Televisions were installed in the 1960s and a swimming pool was built in the mid-1960s.

The committee heard that, in the early 1960s, the then chaplain at the school had drawn up a highly critical report on Artane for the then Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. This report criticised the regimented atmosphere in the school and highlighted episodes of physical abuse. A subsequent Department of Education investigation refuted these allegations.

Counsel for the Christian Brothers Patrick Hanratty said there were significant question marks about the reliability of the chaplain's report. He also revealed that the chaplain had himself subsequently been convicted of sexual abuse.

Airbrushing Suffering of Artane Boys from Records

Added to on September 23, 2005

The Christian Brothers may have much to be proud of, but we must not allow what happened at Artane to be obscured, writes Diarmaid Ferriter

Last Thursday, giving evidence before the Investigation Committee of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse, Brother Michael Reynolds, a senior leader of the Christian Brothers, defended the record of Artane Industrial School. He insisted that, in the main, it was a "positive institution" which had undeservedly received negative media coverage.

He challenged the idea that his community had engaged in cover-ups and suggested there was an inadequate understanding of sexual abuse in the 1930s and 1940s and ignorance about the long-term psychological damage caused by it.

His comments will have angered many who suffered in Artane and the industrial school system. Brother Reynolds said he did not understand a letter written to the provincial of the Christian Brothers in 1938, which maintained that the person who had abused a child "was more to be pitied than censured".

It will have been obvious to everyone else what it meant - that no action would be taken against abusers - and Brother Reynolds did himself, his community and their victims a disservice last week.

The Christian Brothers were aware of child abuse well before 1938. In 1920, the superior general of the Christian Brothers in Ireland informed members of the order that "the fondling of boys, the laying of our hands upon them is contrary to the rules of modesty and decidedly dangerous".

Fintan O'Toole quoted that letter in this newspaper in 1996. Governments in the early years of the State were also aware of the abuse of children. The Carrigan Committee, established by the government in June 1930 to investigate juvenile prostitution, heard evidence from Garda commissioner Eoin O'Duffy, in which he highlighted the prevalence of the sexual abuse of girls under 14 and suggested only 25 per cent of cases were being reported. The report of the committee was suppressed because of its depiction of a society with declining moral values and the State's distrust of the validity of evidence heard from children.

Last week Brother Reynolds also maintained that "the most serious documented case of physical abuse" involved a boy who had his arm broken and he acknowledged that the Christian Brothers had handled that case badly.

This, presumably, was a reference to a case that received attention outside of the institution, a rare occurrence. The reason it was highlighted was because it was brought up in the D?il in April 1954, due to the efforts of the victim's family and TD Peadar Cowan's insistence on raising the subject with minister for education Se?n Moylan.

The victim's mother had been refused permission to see her son, who was in hospital after a 21-year-old Christian Brother had viciously beaten him with a sweeping brush. Cowan was at pains to stress that he thought very highly of the Christian Brothers, but he wanted an assurance that punishment would be inflicted by persons of experience and responsibility.

Moylan sought to downplay the incident as an accident and to exonerate the Christian Brothers of any wrongdoing:

"I cannot conceive any deliberate ill-treatment of boys by a community motivated by the ideals of its founder. I cannot conceive any sadism emanating from men who were trained to have devotion to a very high purpose. The point is that accidents happen in the best-regulated families and in this family there are about 800 boys.

"These boys are difficult to control. At times maybe it is essential that children should be punished. This is an isolated incident; it can only happen again as an accident."

Moylan's contribution highlighted that the State was not going to countenance any serious scrutiny of what was going on in these schools, and that publicly there would be no question of criticising the Christian Brothers.

They were given State funds and carte blanche to do whatever they wanted behind closed doors. This is what allowed the industrial school system to go unchallenged until the late 1960s. The idea that what happened in April 1954 was an isolated incident beggars belief; without doubt, there were countless vicious beatings that never received any publicity.

The brothers did keep a lid on abuse; sometimes moved the perpetrators from institution to institution, and the State connived by turning a blind eye, including ignoring the graphic reports of Anna McCabe, the State's medical inspector of the industrial schools, who documented conditions of near starvation, and wrote of there being "no human interest whatsoever in the children".

This is not to suggest that most of the brothers were abusive. Even those who were incarcerated in the institutions have been generous in their assessment of their mentors (and sometimes tormentors).

Former inmate, Patrick Touher, in his book Fear of the Collar, referred to the impact of the violence of "those bastards who wore a collar under the cloak of a Christian Brother"; but he also acknowledged that most of the brothers "were doing their best, within limited circumstances, in hard times and with frightening numbers. They had no luxury, nothing to look forward to except more of the same."

The Christian Brothers can be proud of their enormous contribution to Irish society and the education of children, but the contention that Artane, or indeed any industrial school, was "a positive institution" in 20th-century Ireland cannot go unchallenged.

Diarmaid Ferriter lectures in Irish history at St Patrick's College, DCU, and is author of The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000 (Profile Books)