The Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy. The names of the religious orders are cruel irony.
On Wednesday, a 2,600-page report from the Irish government's Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse
detailed the torture, beatings and rapes -- the outrageous actions a nine-year-long study uncovered in more than 250 church-run institutions. The crimes persisted from the 1930's to the 1990's. The thousands of victims were the "least of these," poor children in orphanages, hostels, regular schools and schools for the disabled.
An editorial in The Irish Times called the report "the map of an Irish hell."
In this instance, a cozy relationship between the state and the Roman Catholic Church shielded the perpetrators. "The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the Congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection and monitoring of the schools," the report says.
It's a caution for anyone in any country who would blur the line between the state and organized religion. Scrutiny is necessary, particularly when the welfare of children is at stake.
It's also about power. When any group – like the Catholic Church in Ireland – has that kind of unlimited power, abuse is inevitable.
In Ireland, complaints were ignored. "When confronted with evidence of sexual abuse, the response of the religious authorities was to transfer the offender to another location where, in many instances, he was free to abuse again."
And even now, the survivors are frustrated. Because of a lawsuit brought by the Christian Brothers, at the center of many of the abuse charges, the names of the accused have not been released. The order's leader in Ireland, Brother Kevin Mullan, said in an Associated Press story "perhaps we had doubts about some of the allegations."
The victims have no such doubts.
It is shocking to read down the list of crimes. It is impossible to imagine what the children endured. And we'll never know the stories of the children who never made it out alive.
Priests and nuns who abuse take away their victims' childhood and their faith, leaving them with nothing. It is the most heinous of crimes.
And it's nothing new. Across the U.S., the Catholic Church has paid out settlements to abuse victims. But how much has it learned? Church leaders have often spoken like lawyers in statements designed not to beg forgiveness but to limit liability. Victims have had to fight for every disclosure. And – as in many government scandals – higher-ups have escaped punishment and responsibility.
Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland could only say: "I am profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways." It's not enough. The Vatican and the Pope himself should lead rather than follow. And the church in Ireland should start naming names.