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'Authoritarian Atmosphere' Prevented Claims of Abuse

The Irish Times - July 15, 2004 by Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

An "authoritarian atmosphere in schools and institutions made even credible people afraid to complain", said Brother John O'Shea, regional leader of the Brothers of Charity in Ireland and Britain, yesterday.

He was explaining to the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse why there were so few complaints of child abuse in residential institutions before the mid 1990s.

That was "the general situation" and it was similar where people with special needs were concerned. "They were seen as a group rather than as individuals in a group," he said.

The Brothers of Charity had 50 abuse allegations made against them to date, he said. They became aware of abuse as a significant issue for the first time in 1995 when informed by gardaí that allegations had been made against two Brothers at their Lota centre in Cork. The two Brothers pleaded guilty and were sentenced. More allegations "followed in quick succession".

He agreed the gravity of abuse was not recognised in the past and was addressed, usually, as a moral issue "with an emphasis on the spiritual" and "a focus on the celibate life" of the accused "rather than on the abuse and hurt caused". It was dealt with "as a type of confessional secrecy situation," with "no understanding of the addictive nature of abuse".

Sister Anne Boland, provincial of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, said that 2,154 children passed through their St Joseph's orphanage in Dún Laoghaire between its opening in 1856 and closure in 1985.

In 1971 a child alleged she had been sexually abused by a man whose family she had been staying with at weekends. The gardaí were informed and the child was not allowed visit the family again. In 1997 a boy complained he was being sexually abused by a priest who visited the orphanage. The priest was convicted.

Brother Pius McCarthy, provincial secretary of the De La Salle congregation, said that 20 people had made complaints against members of the congregation to the commission. In all, 29 allegations had been made: 13 of sexual abuse, 15 of physical abuse, and one of knowing about but not reporting abuse.

Allegations in 1991 were investigated by the health board and gardaí but it concluded there was no evidence. In 1994 three former residents complained to gardaí about physical and sexual abuse at the Finglas Children's Centre in Dublin. The allegations were denied by staff interviewed by gardaí.