The Habit of Abuse


By John Molloy


The Habit of Abuse


The sexual abuse of children is not unique to Ireland. The sexual abuse of children in institutional care is not unique to Ireland. What is unique to Ireland is the extent to which this was perpetrated by religious brothers, priests, and even nuns, as well as the culture of savage and sadistic physical abuse in which it was set. Some might argue that similar cultures were present in Britain, Canada, The United States, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Africa. Unfortunately, even in these instances, it does not take much detection work to see the involvement of Irish Religious Orders.

This article is not an attempt to attack the Catholic Church, or the collusion of Irish Society in allowing this abuse happen. We have had so many court cases, so many Commissions of Inquiry and so many published reports into the different scandals, that there is little left that could shock us anymore. This article is an attempt to move away from what has happened, without blaming or excusing, and to ask a question that I have not heard yet asked. That is the rather simplistic sounding question: “Why?”

Nelson Mandela once stated that “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” This is my attempt to look into that soul and to find some explanation for the perversion of religious ideals that professed so much to be about love, truth, compassion, forgiveness and mercy! In setting out to write this piece, I was very conscious of the very important direction and leadership that a number of religious people have given in Ireland throughout not just recent times, but going right back through the ages. It is important for me to state that the tone of this article is critical of the Catholic Church, but that said, I hope it does not detract from the dedication of so many giving individuals within the Church’s ranks.

The hold that the Catholic Church has had on Irish Society since the foundation of the State has been well documented. This was manifested through the hold on day to day life through the determination to adhere to a moral conservative viewpoint through control of schools, hospitals, welfare, publication censorship and so forth. It was also evident through the direct impact on politics such as the opposition to the introduction of “The Mother and Child Scheme 1951”. This intervention caused the resignation of the Minister of Health, Noel Browne from Government, causing the collapse of what was in essence a scheme to provide free medical care for mothers and their infants, similar to schemes already in operation in Britain and Northern Ireland.

In fact, it was Noel Browne, in particular, who argued that it was not the Church that brought this scheme down, it was his colleagues in Government. The acquiescence or cowardice of his colleagues to stand up to the Catholic Church was the problem, not the Church’s conservative viewpoint.

In the past the Catholic Church had earned a respect and a place in Irish Society that was unquestioned. Catholicism in Ireland was ingrained in the Irish psyche in a way that made it synonymous with patriotism or nationality. The people placed their clergy on a pedestal.

This status was hard earned. Following on from the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland in 1649-53 there was an attempt to crush the Catholic Faith. The Act of Settlement in 1652 barred Catholics from standing for Parliament, major landlords had property confiscated, clergy were exiled and those found to have remained were summarily executed.

In 1660 some of these laws were rescinded, including the ability to be a member of the Irish Parliament. By 1688 the Irish Parliament had a Catholic majority. It rescinded the remaining penal legislation. However, following the defeat of the Jacobites in 1691, where the followers of King James 11 lost to King William of Orange, a further raft of Penal Laws was enacted.

All of this led to the mythology surrounding the role of clerics in Catholic Irish society. They were seen as heroes, risking all to say Mass, often on large rocks in woodlands, or agreed secret places where they could not be caught. Some of these “Mass Rocks” can still be seen today, sprinkled across the country. Clerics were educated in countries such as France and Spain, and returned to live a life “on the run”.

Catholics who swore an oath of loyalty to King William were allowed keep their property and rank in Society following the Treaty of Limerick 1691. However, from 1691 until 1778 the Protestant Ascendency introduced further legislation partly out of the anti-Catholic sentiment and partly out of self-interest. This included taking away the right to vote, to stand for parliament, hold firearms, a ban on foreign education, entering the legal profession and many other repressive measures.

The land left by a dying catholic had to be sub-divided to all sons unless the eldest son converted to the Anglican Church. This legislation in itself was a major factor in the circumstances that led to the death toll created in the Great Famine 1847.

Reading the various accounts of that time it can be confusing. If all of these laws were in place and enforced, then it would be difficult to understand how Catholicism survived. However, many of the laws were only in place for a number of years. Others were enforced rigorously for a while, but then let slide into obscurity. In some parts of the country, they were hardly evident.

The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 which became known as the Catholic Emancipation Act, brought about many changes in the status of Catholics in Ireland. It had significant importance because of the rise of Daniel O Connell. He was a Catholic barrister from Co. Kerry who successfully stood for the British Parliament in 1828. His networking with many of the “enlightened” Ascendency Parliamentarians brought about the drive towards “the Emancipation Act”. He became known as a larger than life character, whose impact on Irish life was more misunderstood than recognized. The Act allowed for Catholics to stand for election if they swore an Oath of Allegiance to the British Monarch. However, there was still a prohibition on the open practicing of the Catholic religion. The public appearance of clerics in their robes was punishable with a fine of £50 and a number of male orders were banned altogether, their members to be exiled. Interestingly female orders were not affected.


While much credit is given to Daniel O Connell for the so called Catholic Emancipation, it is not widely known that the reform of the anti-Catholic penal laws only occurred in the “Government of Ireland Act 1920”, two years before Ireland became an Independent State. Under Section 5(2) it repealed


“Any existing enactment by which penalty, disadvantage or disability is imposed on account of

religious belief or on a member of any religious order.” *

(Government of Ireland Act 1920 5:2)


The 1829 Act greatly benefited the Catholic middle classes who were prepared to go along with the restriction of their faith through their allegiance not just to the Crown, but also the “Ascendency” way of life. Reading through the social developments following the 1829 Act, it is surprising to see that within that “Ascendency Class” there seemed to be an acceptance of Catholic clerics and bishops, particularly around the larger towns. It was very much within this ambivalent context that a number of religious orders began to get involved in nursing and education.


Following the death of his wife through a tragic accident, which also left his daughter seriously disabled Edmund Ignatius Rice abandoned a successful business career and set up a school for Catholics in New Street, Waterford in 1802. This was made possible following the repeal of “The Popery Act” in 1782. This law had decreed that any public or private instruction in the Catholic Faith would render teachers liable to prosecution. It was this law that had created the environment where “hedge schools” had flourished. These were mobile schools that could be disbanded once the warning was given.

Rice was joined by a number of like-minded men and soon the school at New Street was replaced by a bigger one, called “Mount Sion”. This was blessed by Bishop Hussey in 1803. This School was licensed by the Church of Ireland Bishop. In 1808, this group of teachers took religious vows under the authority of the Bishop of Waterford and became known as the Presentation Brothers. This was the first congregation of men founded in Ireland and one of the few ever founded by a layman.

By the 1820’s this congregation had expanded, and rather than have to apply to each Bishop in each Diocese that they worked in, Rice applied to Pope Pius V11 for approval as a pontifical congregation, with a Superior General in charge, bypassing the individual bishops. This led to the establishment of the Irish Christian Brothers. These two orders, founded by the one man went on to dominate Catholic male education in Ireland right up to the present day. Over the years both orders became very much associated with educating the poor and their loyalty to the Irish language. This placed them firmly on the nationalist side.


While the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 (The Catholic Emancipation Act) had been passed, this did little to encourage Catholic education. This was partly due to the fact that Catholicism was very much associated with Nationalism, and in particular, with the use of the Irish language (Gaeilge). The Education Act 1831 was the first of a number of Acts brought about to change this. Stanley, The Chief Secretary for Ireland (under the Act of Union 1800) introduced religious teaching in schools for an authorised time period. This was designed to be acceptable to all religious leaders throughout the country, but had to be delivered in English, even in parts of the country where only Irish (Gaeilge) was spoken. Those who spoke even a single Irish word in school received bad marks. If this happened on a number of occasions “the children would be severely flogged”. (Hoey 1968)

The discrimination around language divided the Catholic Church in Ireland. An English speaking section, seen as supporting the Act of Union, thrived and became associated with the merchant classes of the Ascendancy.

For the others, it was clear that the land could not support them. While the penal laws had put in place a system where land had to be sub-divided among sons, the size of the farms meant that more and more people were living in near famine conditions.

Each year, depending on the seasonal production of potatoes, more and more tenants had to leave the land, often operating as mendicants or paupers, trying to beg enough to survive on.

Long before the Great Famine (1845-1847) there was an inquiry by an Irish Commission in 1832 into this nationwide mendicancy. Setting aside the humane recommendations of this Commission, 130 Poor House Unions were set up across the country by the Government, each catering for 1000 people.

While there was growing unrest throughout the impoverished classes, O Connell renewed his focus on trying to repeal the Act of Union 1800.

He held a series of “Monster Meetings” across the southern part of the country. 60,000 attended the first one at Waterford in 1842. In all, he held 40 such meetings in 1843. 300,000 attended at Kilkenny. 400,000 attended Mallow and 500,000 attended the meeting at Tara. Tara was significant in that it was held on a Catholic “holy day of obligation”. Mass was celebrated for the Congregation on six altars. Such was the passion of his comments at Tara, that some of the crowd expected a call to revolt from O Connell.

The final meeting was to be held at Clontarf. This meeting was proclaimed and O Connell and some of his supporters were arrested. In 1844 O Connell was found guilty of Conspiracy, fined £2000 and sentenced to twelve month’s imprisonment.

Afraid of the impact O Connell had, Peel, the British Prime Minister, introduced the Charitable Bequests Bill. This awarded £26,000 to Maynooth College on an annual basis, setting up a Board in which Catholics and Protestants would act in conjunction.

Two Catholic Bishops were appointed to the Board, The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Murray and the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr. Keating. While O Connell and his followers opposed this move, it further divided the Catholic Hierarchy, drawing more and more of them into supporting the Act of Union and moving further away from the ordinary people.

That is not to say that the ordinary people fully supported O Connell. It was not lost on many that when the country was ravaged by famine in the Great Hunger of 1847, O Connell died in luxury in Italy, far from the Poor House Unions of his native land, and chose to have his heart buried there, in his beloved Rome.


The Great Hunger really hit in 1846 and peaked in 1847. It did not end until 1851. For the purpose of this article I do not want to go through the causes, or the politics of what went on through it. In all, over one million died of a number of causes ranging from starvation, malnutrition, typhus, cholera or fever. While there was a growing tradition building up of emigration to Britain, the United States and Canada prior to this, the numbers shot up at this time and throughout the following years. In 1847 it is estimated 220,000 emigrated. However, in 1852, that number was 369,000. (Phoenix 2011). Because the numbers emigrating were so high, news of what was happening spread across the world. In fact, the conditions in which many of these migrants travelled were so bad that the impact of the famine reached foreign shores, to back up the stories. The ships they travelled on became known as “Coffin Ships” for obvious reasons. In 1847 4000 bodies had to be removed from the hold of Coffin Ships arriving in Quebec alone. Some of these ships had to be isolated because of the risk of contagious disease.

Pope Pius 1X wrote a world-wide encyclical calling on all Catholics to support the famine relief effort. Within Ireland there were a number of clergy, often working together with Protestant clergy in running local relief committees. With the exception of Bishop McHale and Archbishop Murray, there was little evidence of any support from the Irish Catholic Hierarchy. In fact, Pope Pius 1X let it be known through Cardinal Fransoni, his advisor, that he regarded the Irish Bishops as lazy in fund-raising, and thereby not effective in minimising the proselytising work of other churches. There were examples of some protestant groups that were engaged in giving soup for conversion to their faith.

This accusation was well founded. The work of Mr Joseph Bewley and Mr Jonathon Pim of the Quaker Society (Society of Friends) in funding relief efforts raised over £200,000. There were only 3000 Quakers in Ireland. The sum raised by the world-wide Catholic Church was approximately £400,000.

The Vatican had its own agenda in trying to increase the Hierarchy’s profile in this regard. More so than most Popes, Pius 1X was extremely conscious of the impact of the French Revolution of 1789. Throughout the Revolution itself many bishops and ordinary clergy were executed alongside the Aristocracy. Following on from 1789 there was a growing persecution of the Church in France. This had spread to other parts of Europe, even Italy. Pius 1X assumed that where there was unrest among the poor and revolution became a possibility, then this anti-Catholicism, or anti-clericalism, would follow. The criticism levelled by Rome at the Irish Catholic Hierarchy was not done out of pity for the starving Irish. It was done out of a need to safeguard the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

There seemed to be no real understanding of the immensity of what the famine represented.


“Uniquely, a European country suffered a catastrophe which the continent had not

endured for centuries. Over one million people died and two million more emigrated

within a decade, sending the country into a spiral of demographic decline which it has

only recently arrested.” (Whelan 2002)


The peculiar inhumane response of the Catholic Hierarchy to such a devastating catastrophe and the ensuing migration of so many caused a great deal of anger at the time, particularly when one member of the Hierarchy described the uprooting of so many as “a merciful dispensation of Providence” (Kickam 1865 in Whelan 2002)


Given that Daniel O Connell died in 1847, there was a vacuum of political leadership. The Young Irelandlers tried to instigate a rebellion in 1848 but it evaporated quickly. However, arising from this, ten years later James Stephens founded an organisation called the Irish Republican Brotherhood. This was the start of the Fenian Movement, the movement that Pope Pius IX had feared.


There were a lot of changes following the famine. One of these was the stopping of the sub-dividing of farms, a key cause of the famine. While the death toll and emigration crossed all divides and classes, it impacted disproportionately on the poorer classes and in particular on the smaller tenant farmers, driving many off the land. Of the poorer classes who both survived and remained, their resilience was often based on subservience to landlords, the establishment, and the church. While one grouping were determined to rebel, the other appeared broken by the poverty, hunger, and desire to survive.

At the behest of Gladstone, the British Prime Minister, Pope Pius 1X excommunicated all members of the Fenian Movement and members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, from the Catholic Church in January 1870. This effectively killed off the strength of the Republican Brotherhood and other rebellious groups. This act of excommunication left the Church facing a charge of outstanding hypocrisy in that Pius 1X was the last Pope to effectively be a military commander with his own army. Known as “The King of Rome”, he was very committed to violent struggle in Italy, and around the Vatican in particular. This act of excommunication was clearly a political act as it flew in the face of previous Catholic teaching which went back to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine of Carthage, both proponents of the Dogma of the Just War, legitimising armed rebellion against oppressive government. Maybe it was in the spirit of this dogma that Cardinal Paul Cullen recruited two thousand Irish mercenary soldiers to fight for the Pope against Garibaldi, the Italian leader who sought to unify Italy.

The Fenian Movement was singled out by Pius 1X for excommunication in that while it was a revolutionary movement, it was not a society sworn to secrecy under an oath like other proclaimed societies. Because of its connections with the United States, made possible through the vast migration there since the famine, it was listed alongside such organisations as the Independent Order of Good Templars, the Odd Fellows, the Sons of Temperance, and the Knights of Pythias. It should be stated that not only was it forbidden to be a member of the Fenian Movement, but also if a Catholic knew of members of this movement and did not inform on them then they too would be covered under the excommunications. I found no evidence to state that the order of excommunication against Irish Republican rebels was ever rescinded. Brendan Behan, the author of Borstal Boy often spoke of his Excommunication as recently as the 1960’s.



Pius 1X was the Pope responsible for the Papal Bull that introduced Papal Infallibility which decreed that once the Pope was preaching “Ex Cathedra” his teachings became infallible. The first example of this was when he announced the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. However, as a Pope, Pius 1X will always remain infamous for his involvement in the kid-knapping of the Jewish child Edgardo Mortara from Bologna, then a Papal State. Although Jewish, a servant girl had baptised this child when he was three because she feared he was dying, without the consent of the child’s Jewish parents. When the child was six, Pius 1X had the child removed from his parents and six siblings, taking him to live in the Vatican as his son, in what could only be described as a kid-knapping. This caused an international outcry at the time.


From 1870 onward the Catholic Hierarchy and vast majority of clergy, who had distanced themselves from the Irish language and nationalism, now took a stand that was predominantly pro-Act of Union and anti-republican. The Irish Church used its position to support British rule, with the support of the Papacy, to ensure that the gains it made since the Emancipation Act of 1829, would not be jeopardised by the drive towards republicanism, very much at the cost of an impoverished and discriminated against catholic laity. With hindsight, Rome rule was very obviously London rule.

Over a short space of time the example of the Church’s lethargy towards the famine victims, and the hypocrisy of the Fenian excommunications demonstrated its lack of compassion for the disadvantaged members of its own laity.

For us today to look back at this time, it would be difficult to understand the immensity of suffering that the famine era brought about. For that generation and subsequent generations, the horror of what happened was ingrained in the psyche of the nation. In 1848 John Mitchel wrote:


“A calm still horror was over the land. There was the stillness and heavy pall-like feel

of the chamber of death. You stood in the presence of a dread, silent vast dissolution.”


He went on to write later:


“Children met you, toiling heavily on stone heaps but their burning eyes were senseless

and their faces cramped and ‘weasened’ like stunted old men. Gangs worked but without

a murmur or a whistle or a cough, ghostly, like voiceless shadows to the eye.”

(Mitchell in Whelan 2002)


These words were written while the famine was still raging. A decade later W.G. Haskins, an American wrote:


“A solemn, sad, loneliness hung like a black pall over everything.” (Haskins in Whelan 2002)


It is difficult to compare this with the quote from a member of the hierarchy, describing a “merciful dispensation of Providence” (Kickam 1865).


Much later, writing in a much wider world-wide context, Pope Leo X111 wrote:


“Broken in spirit and worn down in body, how many of them would gladly free

themselves from such galling bondage! But human respect, or the dread of

starvation, makes them tremble to take the step.” (Leo X111 A. 61. 1891)


In the Irish context there were a number of changes after the famine. The ruling around the sub-division of farms among all sons, brought about through the ruling in the anti-Catholic Penal Laws was no longer enforced. This created a new dilemma. The more usual practice of the eldest son inheriting the farm protected the size of the farm. However this meant that the remaining siblings had no entitlement to stay on the land. They had to find alternate ways of making a living. The obvious solution was emigration to the more industrialised countries such as Britain and the United States. It also contributed to a growing practice of younger sons and daughters going into religious life, as a strategy to get away from the poverty and uncertainty of living on the land. Junior Seminaries grew up where children from eleven or twelve years of age were educated with the expectation that they would later go into religious life. Those who did not go forward to religious life left the junior Seminary with a good education that prepared them to go into a profession or into business, getting away from the life that they would have otherwise expected to endure.

Such was the devotion to Catholicism at this time, borne out of being “broken in spirit and worn down in body”, to use Leo X111’s phrase, that grateful parents would often talk of specific children being “promised to the Church”. Regardless of personal vocation, these children grew up with the expectation that they had to go into religious life because of this “promise”.


It was at this time that the Catholic Church appeared to grow in power, taking on as much leadership in the area of politics as religion, “using the altar as a platform as much as a pulpit!” Not only was the pulpit used as a platform, but it was done in a very self-serving and disingenuous manner. Bishop Cullen, one of the more outspoken members of the Hierarchy drove what might be termed “a devotional revolution” preying on the broken spirited laity, denouncing the drive towards republicanism by labelling it a conspiracy driven by the Orange Society.

At this time, from the late 1870’s onwards the Church had a disproportionate hold on Irish Society turning Irish people into what James Joyce would later call “a priest-ridden Godforsaken race!” (Joyce 1914)


In his novel “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and his short stories “The Dead” and “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”, James Joyce very clearly illustrated the divide created in Irish Society by the role the Church took in bringing down Charles Stewart Parnell, the Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Parnell involved himself in an affair with a married woman, Kitty O Shea, causing a major scandal. Although he was a Protestant, the Catholic Bishops and clergy denounced him from the pulpits at Mass until eventually some of his own party turned against him. He died in 1891, aged 45 from a heart attack. Such was his impact at Westminister that Gladstone described him as one of the three greatest politicians of the 19th century.


At the time of Parnell’s death in 1891 the industrial revolution had brought many changes into the world, but without doubt, the most significant one was the rise of the capitalist ideology or the drive to materialism. In 1867 Karl Marx published the first part of his economic critique “Das Kapital”. The other two parts were published after his death in 1883. These were concluded and published by his friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels in 1885 and 1894. While this work was regarded as exceptionally important in the development of Marxism, Communism and Socialism, Pope Leo X111 published a Papal Encyclical entitled “Rerum Novarum” in 1891. In this Encyclical Leo X111 attacked the impact of the growth of Capitalism from a moral perspective, advocating the need for workers to join Trade Unions and to organise themselves to resist the abuses of ruthless employers. His writings were in some ways just as radical as Marx’s. However the emphasis he placed on the dignity of work, the need to ensure that the exploitation of children was brought to an end because of its impact on their availability for education, and the need to protect the role of women in society, did not garner the same kind of attention as Das Kapital. In an opening article he stated:


“Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered,

isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked

competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although

more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise,

but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men.” (Leo X111. 3 -1891)


In his commentary on “Rerum Novarum”, Gerard Darring wrote that Leo X111 challenged the “position of those who use religion to support their oppression of the poor” (Leo X111: Rerum Novarum). In some ways no greater example could be seen than the manner in which the Irish Catholic Hierarchy operated at the time of the publication of the Encyclical. If it were true that the Hierarchy only concerned itself with matters spiritual or moral then it could be seen to be operating within that remit only. However, given that the Church was actively preaching from the pulpit on matters political, attacking republicanism and undermining Parnell in Bishops’ Letters to be read to the Diocese, then the evidence suggested that rather than support and act on “Rerum Novarum”, the Irish Hierarchy seemed hell-bent on maintaining the status quo, ignoring the plight of the poor.

Dublin was very much a divided City at that time. While it was regarded as a wealthy City, particularly among the landlord and merchant classes, it had a shockingly poor side as well.

About 30% of the people of Dublin (87,000) lived in what were then deemed to be slums, old dilapidated Georgian houses. Of these 2000 families lived in single roomed tenements, without heat, light, water or adequate sanitary conditions. The mortality rate was the highest in the British Isles. The infant mortality rate far exceeded that of Liverpool, Britain’s worst City. Tuberculosis was rife. Malnutrition was rife. Prostitution figures per capita were among the highest in Europe. Against this back-drop, employers used the brokenness of the poor to exploit them further through low wages and a policy of maintaining a lack of stability in the work force. Because of the high unemployment rates some employers hired on a daily basis, for example, at the gates of the dock-yards, hand picking whoever they wanted, and no doubt, turning away the more militant or outspoken. There is no evidence of the Catholic Church saying anything to address this.

Instead, it was left to the labour leader, Jim Larkin to deal with this. Arriving in Dublin in 1908, he immediately began to organise workers into Trade Unions. This of course was resisted by the employers, led by the leading employer of the time William Martin Murphy. Like Larkin, he felt the need to organise, founding the Employers Federation. The battle between Larkin and Murphy escalated over the next couple of years , culminating in the Lock Out 1913. The ITGWU, Larkin’s Union went on strike in a number of Murphy’s businesses, starting with the Dublin Tramway Company. This happened in August 1913, during the week of the RDS Horse Show. Because Murphy owned the Independent Newspaper, Larkin called on a boycott of that paper. Eason’s refused to take part in the boycott. Workers in all three businesses came out on strike. Others followed. Murphy called on the Employers Federation to “lock out” all Larkinist supporters and Dublin became embroiled in one of the bitterest labour disputes that ever occurred in Ireland. 25,000 people were out of work. From the outset it became clear that Murphy intended to crush the ITGWU and if he had to starve them back to work then that was what he would do. From the outset, the Irish Catholic Church stood unequivocally on the side of Murphy.

There was growing support for the workers. This was clear in the printed media, not owned by Murphy and in the general groundswell of support from the general public. This support was bolstered by the actions of the police force at the time. Their reaction to some of the meetings held in the City Centre by Larkin was heavy handed. At one such meeting on a Sunday morning, Countess Markievicz, who was to later to become Ireland’s first female member of Parliament, was manhandled by the RIC when arriving in her coach. This led to scuffles which quickly spiralled out of control. The RIC baton charged the crowd, including many innocent Mass goers coming out from the Pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street. Two died and hundreds were injured. An inquiry followed and the resultant exoneration of the RIC conduct was seen as a “whitewash”.

Around this same time two tenements buildings in the City collapsed killing seven occupants. James Plunkett, in his novel “Strumpet City”, presents a fictional version of these incidents. While it is fiction, many commentators would see this as a fair representation of what happened. Even though sympathy lay with the workers, they had little else. Union members saw the “Lock-out” as “an attempt to starve our women and children”. After seven weeks into the dispute, with thousands facing starvation, soup kitchens unable to cope with the numbers, and a growing sense of desperation, Larkin was advised of the possibility of moving some of the starving children to England for respite. This was not a new idea.

In 1912 in what was known as “the Bread and Roses Strike” in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and in 1913 in Paterson, New Jersey, children were moved to New York. In April 1913, during a General Strike in Belgium, children were moved to Germany and France (Moriarty2013). In all three cases these actions had safeguarded the children and great hardship was averted. Once Larkin gave the approval over 300 homes in England were recruited.

Immediately the Catholic Church responded with tremendous hostility, led by the Archbishop of Dublin, William Walsh. On October 21st he wrote a letter, to be read out at all churches, castigating the mothers of the children in a bitter attack, accusing them of abandoning their faith. Apart from the letter, Archbishop Walsh organised a small number of priests to intercept the first group of children that were to be brought to England. Two of these priests made speeches at the scene, inciting the 200 supporters they had brought with them into a very ugly scuffle situation where the children involved were witness to violent scenes.

One of the priests, Fr. Landers in his speech, in words that resonated from the time of the famine, declared that “The Irish people would rather see their children perish by the ditches than they should be exposed to the risk of being perverted in their religion”.

Only 15 of the 50 intended passengers managed to be taken on board the boat to England. In spite of the starvation conditions of the strikers and their families, the catholic church did nothing to support the children involved.


Three years later, when the Easter Rebellion took place, largely in Dublin, The Church was quick to condemn the rebels. This was in keeping with the stand they, and Pope Pius 1X took in 1871 when the Fenians and members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood were excommunicated. The Rebels of 1916 were largely from the tradition of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, but also contained a number of older Fenians from previous rebellions, one of whom, Tom Clarke, was later to be among the 15 executed for their part in the rebellion.

The rebellion in itself was a military disaster. However, the British Commanding Officer, General Maxwell decided to arrest all of those involved. He managed to arrest twice as many IRB and Sinn Fein rebels as actually took part in the Rising. He also insisted on the Execution of the leaders. While many were sentenced to death, only fifteen were actually executed. Even this number was against the wishes of the then British Prime Minister, Asquith.

The reaction of the general public in Ireland, who had initially regarded the rebellion with a level of indifference, if not contempt, given the serious blood loss in the Great War of 1914-1918, changed dramatically. There was a major outcry at Maxwell’s handling of what happened. Support for the Home Rule supporting Irish Party in the British Parliament collapsed. There was a groundswell of opinion supporting a drive to Independence.

In the run up to the 1918 general election, for the first time in their history, in spite of the excommunication of the rebels, the Irish Hierarchy came out in support of Sinn Fein, the new party founded from the Fenians, and Irish Republican Brotherhood. The sudden turn-around in attitude was most noticeable on the part of Dr. William Walsh, the Dublin Archbishop, who met with the Sinn Fein leadership, and was assured of the role of the Catholic Church, within the new would-be Republic.

Although Sinn Fein won the General Election of 1918 and met in Mansion House Dublin, refusing to take their place in the Westminister Parliament, establishing the new Free State, Ireland continued to be ruled officially by Britain for a further three years before the new nation was recognised.


However, in the meantime, all existing legislation was adopted and upheld by the Free State Government and in fact some of it is only now being changed. Of note from a children’s rights perspective the 1908 Children Act (known as “The Children’s Charter”) was only superseded by the Child Care Act 1991.It took 83 years for successive Governments to prioritise the rights of children in the State, and a further five years to provide the resources to enact the 1991 legislation, in a limited fashion.

Examples of such legislation, carried forward from the 19th century, were the Reformatory Schools Act 1858 and the Industrial Schools Act 1868. According to the CICA Investigation Committee Report Vol. (2.07) the first catered for “those guilty of offences” while the latter covered those “neglected, orphaned or abandoned” – the more vulnerable. In Article 2.15 the report goes on to state:


“To achieve these ends, it was considered necessary that the ‘links between the child

and family be ruthlessly cut’, on the basis that the home was a bad influence. For this

reason, committal was generally imposed for the maximum period.”

(CICA 2:15 -2009)


From this it was easy to see that any child placed in a junior and senior Industrial School could be cut off from protection from family or any outside advocacy for the whole of their childhood, marking them out as exceptionally isolated and vulnerable. With the passing of the Acts in 1858 and 1868 licence was given to open such schools in ever increasing numbers. By 1875 there were 61 of these schools in the 26 counties, 56 of which were Catholic and 5 Protestant (CICA 2:09). One such school was St. Joseph’s in Letterfrack, Co. Galway. The Catholic Archbishop of Tuam bought the property in 1884. Following a refusal from the Lord Lieutenant for Ireland to open an Industrial School on the site, on the grounds that it was unlikely that there would be enough children requiring such an institution, the Archbishop, Dr.John McEvilly, appealed the decision and was granted a licence. He then negotiated with the Christian Brothers to run the institution and it was opened in 1887, with a licence to admit 75 boys. By 1912 this number was revised to admit 190. This school went on to become notorious as one of the worst of its kind. It closed in 1974. The harsh life in Letterfrack was depicted in an RTE Play screened in 1971, “A Week in the life of Martin Cluxton”.

As an Industrial School Letterfrack was licenced to cater for those boys, not of a criminal background; the abandoned , neglected and orphaned. Given the earlier history of Edmund Ignatius Rice and his foundation of both the Presentation Brothers and the Christian Brothers, the choice of the Christian Brothers seemed well intentioned. However, with the passage of time, and the increased numbers of “promised” vocations in the aftermath of the famine, the initial altruism and dedication of the Brothers seemed eroded. The Ryan Report summed it up by stating that those members who served there:


“included firstly those Brothers who had been previously guilty of sex abuse of young boys,

secondly, those whose abuse was discovered while they served in that Institution, and

thirdly, some were subsequently revealed to have abused boys. The Christian Brothers

“did not properly investigate allegations of sexual abuse of boys by Brothers” and “knew

that Brothers who sexually abuse were a continuing danger”. Sending known abusers to

any industrial school was “an act of reckless disregard” especially “one as remote and

isolated as Letterfrack”.

(CICA 1.8 -St. Joseph’s School, Letterfrack 2009)


These comments outline how the most vulnerable children in the country were put into the care of men who were known to be abusers. It is hard to understand the mind-set of those who made decisions like this; to knowingly place these young people in harms-way in such a deliberate fashion. This goes to the heart of the accusation that this was not the case of individual acts of abuse. It was part of a culture of sexual and physical abuse that was clearly systemic. Isolated from society, some of these young people were placed in both junior and senior Industrial schools, some for up to 14 years, cut off from all family and support. They were easy prey!

While Letterfrack was one of the most notorious, the Industrial School at Artane, in Dublin was not far behind. Artane was unusual in that it had a higher profile because of The Artane Boy’s Band, a brass band that was very much involved in the ceremonial pageantry at the annual All Ireland football and hurling finals held in Croke Park. Much larger in size, Artane held up to 450 residents.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid commissioned a priest, Fr Harry Moore, to carry out an investigation into the running of Artane in 1962. This report has only recently emerged because of the insistence of the CICA Commission. Fr. Moore’s report was critical of the institution , condemning the poor clothing, lack of medical support, the over severe discipline regime (citing incidents in which boys were beaten across the face in front of him), education, and the career training the boys received (its alleged purpose as an “Industrial School”).

An interesting aside as part of this report was the disdain shown to Fr. Harry Moore during his time there. He described how he questioned a Christian Brother on why a Protestant layman accompanied the boys band on each and every engagement. Fr Moore went on to state that: “He renders no service to the school, and in my opinion should not be present. On one occasion when I questioned the Brother concerning this matter I found him not only discourteous but impertinent.”

The report also names one incident that should have been followed up on further.


“Recently a boy was punished so excessively and for so long that he broke away

from the Brother and came to my house a mile away for assistance. The time was

10:45 p.m., almost two hours after the boys retired to bed. For coming to me in

those circumstances he was again punished with equal severity. Some time ago, a

hurley stick was used to inflict punishment on a small boy. The offence was


(Moore, July 1962)


Interestingly, writing in the “Irish Independent” in July 2007, Bruce Arnold, one of Ireland’s more respected journalists, wrote that Fr. Moore’s report led to a “special investigation” of Artane just before Christmas 1962 by Department of Education inspectors McDevitt, McDaid, and McCabe.


“The three inspectors’ documents (delivered in January 1963) constituted a whitewash

report about Artane in an attempt to discredit the diligent Fr. Moore whose findings

were an accurate report of serious neglect and violence.”

Arnold 2007


It is hard to deduce from the written material whether or not the Christian Brothers at Artane were aware of Fr. Moore’s assignment from Dr McQuaid. While there is no evidence to suggest that his report ever went beyond the Archbishop’s desk, the promptness of the follow up investigation and the resultant “whitewash” raises serious questions about collusion between church and state. It raises questions about the direct relationship between Christian Brothers and the Department of Education and the role of the Archbishop in what happened.

It should be stated here that Fr. Harry Moore was, much later, convicted of sexual abuse of a minor, and long after his death in 1973, there was an attempt to discredit the reputation of Dr John Charles McQuaid, the former Archbishop.

The Fr. Harry Moore Report was interesting in naming the “impertinence” shown to him by a Christian Brother. The culture at Artane was very much one of discipline, punishment, and regimental order. It would appear from the report that there was little more than lip-service paid to religion. Fr. Moore commented on an absence of facilitating Mass going and his description of the state of the church Sacristy is very telling.

“Some time ago mice were discovered in the Sacristy and on opening the Corporal

before Mass I noticed it to be soiled with animal excretion. A few days later the

Chasuble was in similar condition. These isolated incidents indicate the general

tone of the chapel.”

(Moore 1962)


This is a surprising comment given the nature of the Christian Brother’s vocation and commitment to the Catholic Faith, where the respect for religious ceremony and practice is usually held in high regard. Given the lack of humanity and Christianity shown to the young people in their care, then maybe it was not surprising to see this lack of respect to the tangible practice of religious ceremony.

Earlier I named the heroic endeavours of Catholic priests “on the run” using Mass rocks in scattered woodlands to bring their congregations together. There was nothing heroic about the practice of religion at Artane. That said, even if there was a culture that paid scant attention to the outward practice of religion, it is still very difficult to understand how the abuse was not confronted, how the transfer within the Christian Brothers, other religious orders, and dioceses throughout the country, could go on unchecked and unnoticed.



In 1962 an “Instruction” was sent from The Supreme and Holy Congregation of the Holy Office dealing with the manner of proceeding in cases of Solicitation (Vatican Press 1962) to members of the Hierarchy all over the world. While Solicitation was seen as the misuse of the Sacrament of Confession, either during, before or after the Sacrament to provoke a person into impure or obscene matters, and not deemed to be the sexual abuse of minors generally (?), this document reveals how the Vatican was pushing the use of secrecy (a.11), the swearing to silence by oath(a.11), and the movement of priests from where they were appointed ( a.4). This document details the punishment of Excommunication for those that breach the secrecy and states clearly that this secrecy is to be upheld in the transfer of the offender, up to the time of death.

The Document details how an inquisition is to be held according to Cannon Law. Interestingly, when I was reading through one section (a.52), I had to read it again to double check one section. It read that if the accused uttered something through a slip of the lips then “in every way the Judge is to remember that it is never right for him to bind the accused by an oath to tell the truth” (cfr. Canon 1744). (a.54)


In judging the extent of the crime, and therefore deciding upon the action to be taken, the Judge was instructed that:


“To have the worst crime, for penal effects, one must do the equivalent of the following:

any obscene, external act, gravely sinful, perpetrated in any way by a cleric or attempted

by him with youths of either sex or with brute animals (bestiality)”. (a. 73) 1962


There is no doubt from the general tone of this article that there was a recognition of the power of the cleric to abuse his position as a confessor, not just in the confessional, but in life outside of the confession box, and that this abuse was seen as exceptionally serious. I was confused in reading the “Instruction” in that while it clearly links the Sacrament of Confession to the act of Solicitation, “bestiality” is named as a ‘worst crime’. I cannot see the connection between animals and confession! From this I am led to assume that, in reality, this Instruction may have been used to cover all types of sexual abuse perpetrated by clerics. However, it is ironic that throughout the article there is mention of secrecy, the swearing of Oaths, and the penalties to be imposed for breaches of this secrecy, when the modus operandi in most cases of abuse, is the imposition of secrecy by the abusing perpetrator! Either the Church was very naive in what it was doing or it had another agenda.


When instructing on communications of the outcomes of “inquisitions”,

It states:


“All these official communications shall always be under the secret of the Holy Office;

and, since they concern the common good of the church to the greatest degree, the

precept of doing these things obliges under serious sin (sub gravi).”     (a.70) 1962


The Instruction was signed by A. Cardinal Ottaviani from the Office of the Sacred Congregation and apparently was approved by Pope John XX111 on March 16th 1962. The motivation was the “common good of the church to the greatest degree”. Once again, rather than look at the impact of the abuse on the victim, it is clear that the interest of the Church was the priority.

In Ireland, this was clearly evident. There is one documented case where two children were sworn to secrecy in the Fr. Brendan Smith case, where the oath they were intimidated into making forbade them even telling their parents what had happened!

It is shocking to contrast this approach with the approach undertook by the Christian Church a thousand years earlier:

“Any cleric or monk who seduces young men or boys, or who is apprehended kissing

in any shameful situation, shall be publically flogged and shall lose his clerical tonsure.

Thus shorn, he shall be disgraced by spitting in his face, bound in iron chains, wasted

by six months of close confinement and for three days each week put on barley bread

given him toward evening.”

(St Peter Damian to Pope Leo 1X a.d.1049)


It would be unfair however to extrapolate from the 1962 Instruction that licence was given to carry out the irresponsible transfers such as happened at Letterfrack. The Document although demanding secrecy, emphasises sanctions of suspensions, transfers limiting access to further victims, addresses recidivism and penitence for the crime. It also takes into account:


“the number of persons solicited and their condition, as, for example, if they are minors of

age, or especially consecrated through religious vows to God; the form of solicitation, if

perhaps, if it is joined with false teaching or false mysticism; the turpitude of the acts not

only formal but also material and especially the connection of solicitude with other delicts;

the length of the obscene conversation; the repetition of the crime, the recidivism after his

admonition, and the obstinate malice of the solicitor.” (a.62)


In the implementation of article 62 there was a clear disregard by the Irish Hierarchy for the victim. The silence imposed and the irresponsible actions of those in charge gave licence to the abusers to prey on the most vulnerable, creating an environment where not only were the victims not believed, but they could not be heard, because they were silenced, for the ‘common good of the Church’.

The irony is this swearing to secrecy has done more damage to the future of the Irish church than anything else and that when Pope Pius 1X imposed excommunication of Irish Republicans to safeguard the future of the Church, it was the fear of this very same tool, when imposed on the Senior Clergy and members of the Hierarchy that has caused so much damage to the reputation of the Church.

Throughout this article I have highlighted the disdain in which the Church has treated its own laity and in particular the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable. I have not written anything about celibacy, married priests or the absence of women priests. I believe these issues are not relevant in trying to understand what has happened in Ireland.


Finally, one anecdote from an experience I had a number of years ago might explain one aspect of this in very simplified way.

Sister P. was a lovely woman and a nun. She presented as a grandmother type to all the young people in the Centre that I was co-managing. The home was for children from the Irish Traveller Community. One day in the nineteen seventies, we were discussing the exploding accommodation difficulties within the transient Traveller Community. I was advocating a change in Law, and pushing what I saw as a “rights” based agenda.

Sister P. interrupted me by saying “God bless your innocence, John! This will never be sorted out.” She went on to say: “We will always have the poor. How else can normal people like us do charitable work. We have to have the poor. We need to be able to do charity to gain “Indulgences”. How else can we get into heaven?”

Sister P. was an integral part of our organisation and a really hard worker. Her commitment was obvious to everyone. She was loved by all, yet her driving motivation was seeking indulgences to earn her way into heaven!




Brown, Noel: “Against the Tide”, Gill and MacMillan 1986, Dublin (p146-7 and 171-2)

Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse: Letterfrack: CICA, Vol 1:7 and 1:8, 2009

Cookery, Daniel: “The Hidden Ireland” (M.H. Gill and MacMillan) 1925

Delaney, Frank: “Daniel O Connell (1775-1847)” (BBC History Magazine, August 2002)

Government of Ireland Act 1920: Article 5 Section 2, (Her Majesty’s Stationary Office)

Haskins, W.G: quoted from Whelan, Kevin: as below

Hoey, “Irish History” pub Folens 1968

Joyce, James: “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” From Dubliners (Wordsworth Classics) P96-97. 1914

Joyce, James: “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” 1916

Keogh, Daire: “Edmund Rice, 1764-1844” (Four Courts Press: Blackrock, Ireland) 1996

Kinealy, Christine: “ The Widow’s Mite: Private relief during the Great Famine”. Pub in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives. 18th-19th Century History, Features, Issue 2 (March-April 2008) The Famine, Volume 16.

Lyons, F.S.L:Ireland Since The Famine”, Ed 2 Fontana Pub 1973

Mandela, N.: from his speech at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Children’s fund, Pretoria May 8th 1995.

Martin, F.X., Moody T.W: “The Course of Irish History”, Mercier Press, (Cork) 1967

Mitchel, John: quoted from Whelan, Kevin: as below

Moore, Fr. Harry: Private Report on Artane Industrial School 1962 from “The God Squad” by Paddy Doyle, Posted June 15, 2009 at hhtp:// school/

Moriarty, Therese: “Saving Kids, Saving Souls.” From “The Irish Times”, Wednesday September 11, 2013.

Ottaviani, L. + S.A. Card: “Instruction on the manner of proceeding in cases of Solicitation”, Vatican Polyglot Press, 1962.

Plunkett, James: Strumpet City, Gill and MacMillan, pp 461-462 and p 480, 1969

Pope Leo X111: Rerum Novarum, articles 14,22, 42 and 61. Vatican Press, May 1891

Phoenix, Eamon: “the Impact of the great Famine of 1845-51” from a talk on the theme “From the Irish Famine to Post Modern Hunger in the 21st Century” National Library of Ireland October 13, 2011.

Roman Catholic Relief Act 1929: Also known as “Catholic Emancipation Act 1829”: (Her Majesty’s Stationary Office)

Whelan, Kevin: “The Memories of The Dead” in The Yale Journal of Criticism, Vol 15, No 1 (2002): P59-97. The John Hopkins University Press (p67-68)


Darring, Gerald: Leo X111: Rerum Novarum: A summary Article by Gerald Darring, 2014

Arnold, Bruce:Father Harry Moore – Report on Artane to Archbishop McQuid”. Irish Independent,

Saturday July 28 2007. From 24/6/2014

St. Peter Damian: Letter to Pope Leo 1X, 1049. (6/1/14)


MacLoughlin, Brian (Director): “A week in the life of Martin Cluxton”. RTE Film Productions 1971


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