Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Since my last post, I thought I should probably take a couple of steps back for my American readers, because as unbelievable as it may seem to my Irish readers, the Ryan Report hasn't really made the news in America. I am trying to figure out why, and I can't come up with a reason. On May 20th of this year, the Child Abuse Commission in Ireland released a report of its findings from "the largest investigation of religious orders in Ireland to date," according to the Irish Times, which included incidents from as early as 1914 (focusing mostly on the late 30s to the 70s), and took over 10 years to complete. "The deadline for receipt of complaints of abuse to the commission was July 2001, at which time 3,149 people had applied to testify." And those are only the victims who were still alive and courageous enough to come forward.

The Irish Times reports that the investigation initially got off to a very rocky start because, as Justice Mary Laffoy claimed, the Department of Education and the institutions themselves were not fully cooperating. So, frustrated, she resigned. Her replacement, Justice Sean Ryan, (hence the name "Ryan Report") decided that "the commission no longer intended to name anyone responsible for abuse, other than those already convicted by the courts and that it would interview a cross section of witnesses, due to the scale of the inquiry." And with that, the investigation continued. But the consequence of that decision is obvious: the perpetrators are not named. Additionally, one of the biggest offenders, the Christian Brothers, sued in 2004 so that none of its members (dead or alive) would be implicated. This deal that Ryan made was really like making a deal with the devil because he assured that while the secrets and old wounds would be exposed, there would be no justice.

So what's in the Ryan Report? First off, it's five volumes long -- around 3,000 pages, which described ritual beatings, sexual assault, neglect, emotional abuse -- inconceivable behavior rampant all over the countries institutions that were supposed to be these children's last hope. You can read the report online. (If you are feeling overwhelmed, you can skip to the Conclusions.) They found that over 800 people were responsible for abusing the children in their care.

But here's the thing. You might be able to imagine the fallout from this. But can you imagine it, remembering that the size of Ireland is equal to about one of America's smaller states? Think about the scale, the enormity of what this report means. According to the BBC, "About 35,000 children were placed in a network of reformatories, industrial schools and workhouses up to the 1980s." That is a huge number of people, even in America. But for this tiny place, it's incredible to think of how many victims and their families have dealt with the realities, of what happened -- not abstract, in a report, or a sound bite -- but these things happened, and I think it's easy to forget that these events set a chain reaction that affects people's entire lives, the lives of everyone around them, their children, and their children's children. It goes beyond the thousand or so people who testified for the report. That is a mere sample.

And how are they being treated now? There are reports that the victims who wanted to attend the release of the Ryan Report were locked out of the proceedings. The government is trying to act as though this is the first word on what was going on for all those years. But the truth of the matter is that there have been many court cases over the years of victims seeking justice, and they were all beaten down. As one victim was quoted by the BBC after the release of the Ryan Report, "It has devastated me and will devastate most victims because there are no criminal proceedings and no accountability whatsoever."

I can't really summarize all the different reactions to the report by the Irish Government, and how they are, in my view, completely insufficient, because I would be here all day. But the fact remains that there's still no separation of Church and State in Ireland, and I tell ya, this is the result. And then, adding insult to injury, you have people in the Vatican saying things like abortion is worse than child abuse. Um, thanks. Where's the moral of the story there? Stop your belly aching and think about more important issues like abortion? Buzz off! Some child advocacy groups are calling for a change in the constitution to prevent these kinds of things from happening, and are finding (guess what?) more silence.

When people ask me what Ireland is like, and what it's like to live there, it's things like this that make it difficult to respond. The longer I live in the country and understand Irish history, the more amazed I am at what a complex place it is. No wonder the Irish are continually struggling with defining themselves. The sadness and hurt that one finds when one scratches the surface of what Ireland is all about (because there's a lot more than the pubs and the scenery!), it stops you in your tracks. And yet people have the strength to go on, and fight. And I hope this is one issue that gets its due.

And finally I will end with a video featuring the talk show "Questions and Answers," where an abuse victim speaks. It's incredibly moving, and shows how beautifully tenacious people can be. This man is a phoenix:

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