Irish Child Abuse Report: 'People Know The Truth'

Report unveils decades of Catholic Church abuse affecting thousands of children.

LONDON, May 22, 2009— -- Tom Hayes' first memories are those of the physical abuse he suffered in a school run by priests of the Christian Brothers' congregation in Limerick county, Ireland.

More than 50 years after Hayes, 62, was sexually abused by an older monitor in his school, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in Ireland's reform schools has released its final report. Now Hayes told ABC News that he's "glad the report was published in his lifetime."

More than 3,000 abuse victims sent applications to the Commission to have their stories heard. The report chronicles "endemic and repeated" sexual, physical and motional abuse by Catholic priests and nuns to children in the period from 1930 until the Catholic Churchchurch-run institutions were closed in the 1990's.

Cardinal Sean Brady, leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland responded to the report, saying, "I am profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways in these institutions. Children deserved better and especially from those caring for them in the name of Jesus Christ.''

Tom Hayes was among the 30,000 children placed Ireland's network of industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages and other state-run institutions, after his single mother was deemed unsuitable to raise him. Hayes went through his life believing he was an orphan until the government's Freedom of Information Act allowed him to access his family files in 2003. Unfortunately, Hayes never got a chance to meet his mother, who died in 2001.

As secretary of the Alliance Support Group giving access to legal and psychological support to other victims, Hayes believes the Commission's report is lacking in that "it doesn't make a strong enough distinction between orphans and the majority of children who were placed in these institutions as a result of petty crime and truancy."

He explains that the report does not accurately portray the role played by the Irish Justice System, as children age 2 and up were criminalized simply because they were illegitimate.

Irish State Responsibility

Tom received only a primary school education and was then forced to work on a farm until the age of 16, after which he was let go without any further support from the state.

For this reason, Hayes finds the Commission's report incomplete, saying that "It has not shown that the Irish State was seriously guilty of failing to support the orphans after they were allowed to leave the institutions at age 16."

The five-volume report compiles accounts of more than 2,000 victims and examines more than 100 institutions run by religious orders including the Brothers of Charity, the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.

The findings show that molestation and rape were endemic in boys' facilities and supervisors pursued policies that increased the danger. Even though sexual abuse was less common in the orders supervised by nuns, young girls suffered frequent humiliation and beatings.

The first inquiry into the abuse of children at the hands of the Irish clergy led to the Kennedy Report, published in 1970. Both the 1970 and the 2001 child abuse reports were delayed because of a series of lawsuits by the Christian Brothers, a world-wide lay community within the Roman Catholic Church that has sustained repeated revelations of child sex abuse in its institutions in Canada, Australia, the U.K. and Ireland.

In response to the Commission's report, the Christian Brothers released a statement through their public relations firm saying, "We acknowledge and regret that our responses to physical and sexual abuse failed to consider the long-term psychological effects on children..... We appreciate that no healing is possible without an acknowledgement of our responsibilities as a congregation for what has happened."

The report by the independent Commission, set up in 2000 after Prime Minister Bertie Ahern issued an apology on behalf of the state for victims of child abuse, will not be used in criminal prosecutions. Instead, the report makes a series of suggestions to the state, including erecting a memorial for the victims, constant evaluation of childcare policy and an admission of "failures of systems and policy."

Victim Compensation

The Irish Institutions Redress Board has given each of 12,000 victims who have applied to the Redress Board compensation of $90,000. This compensation is only given to victims on the condition they will waive their right to sue the state and church.

The new leader of Catholic Church in England and Wales, appointed Archbishop of Westminster only one day after the release of the Commission's report, said that the Irish clergy who admitted child abuse were courageous for facing up to their past. "That takes courage, and also we shouldn't forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did," the Most Rev Vincent Nichols told ITV News.

What is certain is that the 2,575-page report by the Commission was made possible thanks to the courage of child abuse victims such as Tom Hayes who says "it's important that people know the truth."

However, a spokesman for the victims, John Kelly, summed up in an interview with the BBC how many of them will be feeling.

"Victims will feel that this enquiry didn't go far enough. It didn't investigate the unconstitutional way the courts sent these children off into the institutions. They wouldn't have been abused if they weren't sent there."