Earlier this month, the Pope Benedict XVI visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. He said the suffering of Holocaust victims must never be denied, belittled or forgotten. As a child, Pope Benedict grew up in Nazi Germany, and joined the Hitler Youth as was expected of young people at the time. The role of some of the Christian Churches in Germany and in their occupied territories during the Second World War in the holocaust has always been a painful and shameful memory.
In 2008, I visited Rwanda and blogged about my trip. On my first morning, I visited the Kigali Memorial Centre and was particularly saddened by the stories and personal tragedies which children suffered. Some of their testimonies and memories, with photographs, clothing, tools used for maiming and murder, and other mementos are there for us to absorb and to try to understand. The Centre also has a section on genocides which have occurred elsewhere in the world, including those during the Second World War.
This week in Ireland, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was published, receiving widespread international coverage as well as domestic revulsion.
Ireland now is trying to reconcile its international image of generosity and altruism with the fact that Ireland maintained a deliberate, considered, systematic, State and Church collaborative, sustained abuse of its most vulnerable children. Those who carried out these crimes against children were in many cases actively protected against punishment. Not only were children in care violated in the grossest ways, in some cases these same children were equally appallingly treated by those outside their immediate carers, by visitors and when temporarily away from their places of care and on work placement or on holidays with volunteers.
It was slavery. It was torture.
Some of the abused statements are summarised by the Irish Times today.
Sadly, there is now much debate currently in Ireland over to what extent there is an obligation by the Roman Catholic Church and its orders, versus by the Irish State and its taxpayers, for the financial compensation to those who have survived.
As I reflect on what has happened this week, I wonder whether it would now be appropriate for the Irish State and the Roman Catholic Church to together construct a respectful and thoughtful Memorial Centre and permanent exhibition to the victims of child abuse.
I envisage the testimonies of the children, photographs, instruments, statements by adults from various organisations of the State and of the Church, and the history of what has happened all being sensitively presented, with the active agreement of those who have survived. Perhaps too such a Memorial could also respectfully recall the victims of systematic child abuse elsewhere in the world, placing what happened in Ireland in an international context.
I believe that a Memorial Centre for Child Abuse would be one way in which Ireland, and the Roman Catholic Church, may be able to say sorry to our victims, and perhaps help prevent such events from re-occurring in Ireland or indeed anywhere else.
“What I got [in Daingean] was I got a searing pain, I will never forget it in all my life, never. The first of it was the shock. It was shock first of all. Then the second one I got and it wasn’t across my buttocks, it wasn’t across my buttocks, it was right between my buttocks with this strap. I don’t know where they got these straps from but it was specially designed for this, it wasn’t a belt. When they say you got a strap, it wasn’t a like a trouser strap, it was a specially made strap. It was very thick and it was about that length (indicating) and it was shaped for gripping with the hand for hitting you with. The way they used to hit you was they used to hit you between the buttocks and pull it up (indicating). The reason he had the other Brother there was to stop you going forward. He used to put his foot on the back of your shoulder, on the back of your neck and your shoulders. He would put his foot there and hold you so that when you got hit with the strap you couldn’t jump forward with the belt. That strap sometimes, they were expert with it, if he wanted that could come around and hit you in the testicles. If ever you got hit in the testicles, that gives you cramp in your stomach, you double up, you couldn’t even move. I passed out.”
One victim summarising his experience in Daingean, paragraph 15.105.