In his weekly blog, Fr Paddy gives his reaction to the Ryan report with its shocking accounts of the systematic abuse of children in residential institutions.

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Fr Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist Papers.

This column appeared on 26 May 2009

On Wednesday 20th our Government issued a report on the nine year investigation into Catholic Church operated schools and reformatories. The Report has come from the Commission to Inquire into child abuse and covered a 60 year period, from 1936.

This report is a most sickening document. It speaks about extreme brutality and great evil. A report that highlights how the most disadvantaged lives were ruined by those charged with the responsibility to care for them often in the name of the Church. This report has raised huge questions about Catholic institutions that permitted and fostered climates of sustained abuse by those given this important task.

Thus far the reaction to the publication of this report has been consistent. Universally all who have heard and read the shocking accounts of systemic abuse have expressed deep shock, horror, disgust, anger and deep shame. The vicious sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual devastation inflicted upon these children was not accidental. It was systemic. It was part of everyday life and deeply ingrained into the culture of the childcare system in Catholic Ireland. The horrors inflicted on these vulnerable children were most extreme including imprisonment, rapes, beatings, molestation, starvation and isolation. Perhaps the most depressing and pathetic context to the report is that such evil was fundamentally carried out by those who represented the Church. Many of these children had to work in the conditions of slave labour. As Rosary beads were being knit together by tiny hands so too was abuse beyond comprehension.

This is no doubt the darkest hour in our Church history. Our thoughts are firstly for that lost generation whose lives were ruined by such evil. Lives that will forever carry the bruises of lost innocent, violence and pain. It is a miracle how so many survived such cruelty and were somehow able to begin again never forgetting but managing to survive. Many of the stories contained within the report tell of lives changed forever because of such abuse. Adult lives that were deeply wounded in terms of addiction, suicide, depression, poor self-confidence and an inability to form relationships. This report is also most difficult for any individual who has ever suffered abuse within the family context. Often this is a most silent cross, carried by so many in all our society and no doubt the terrible details described, will open such wounds for so many people.

I have no doubt that this terrible chapter in the Irish Church will weaken the Churches credibility and moral authority. The Institutional Church must reflect at how it responds to this tragedy. Much more than compensation is necessary. All ready there is a growing demand for a national Day of Atonement and remembrance for all victims being called for. We must talk about this White Elephant of great pain. Thankfully necessary child protection procedure is now in place in all Dioceses’ and Religious Orders to make sure, such tragedy never takes place again. No matter how horrific this report is, at least the truth is told. The darkest hour comes before the dawn. As we are about to celebrate Pentecost there is a huge hunger for so many victims and indeed our Church to be healed at this time.