Children were abused at homes run by nuns, Scottish inquiry finds

From The Guardian-

‘An official inquiry has found that Sisters of Nazareth nuns subjected children to vicious abuse, humiliation and at times sexual assault of “utmost depravity”.

The judge-led Scottish child abuse inquiry has found thousands of children put in four homes run by the Catholic order in Aberdeen, Cardonald, Lasswade and Kilmarnock endured systematic violence and degrading emotional abuse for more than 50 years.

In a detailed account of the evidence she heard covering the years from 1933 to 1984, Lady Smith, the inquiry chair, said the children were deprived of the dignity, compassion and care they were entitled to.

She found the order had a culture based on obedience, intolerance and abuse. “The Nazareth houses in Scotland were, for many children, places of fear, hostility and confusion, places where children were physically abused and emotionally degraded with impunity,” Smith said.

“There was sexual abuse of children which, in some instances, reached levels of the utmost depravity. Children in need of kind, warm, loving care and comfort did not find it. Children were deprived of compassion, dignity, care and comfort.

“It was suggested in evidence that applicants may have colluded to present fictitious accounts about their time in their care, fuelled by resentment towards their families and an appetite for compensation. I reject all such suggestions.”

Her 140-page report, the second summary she has issued about specific institutions, detailed cases of:

• Persistent sexual abuse of boys and girls at all four homes, with one nun facilitating the abuse of a girl by men including priests.

• Children punished routinely with belts, canes, sticks, broom handles, hairbrushes and crucifixes.

• Children who wet their beds being beaten, given cold baths or forced to wear their wet sheets.

• Children being force fed, including when they were vomiting the food back up.

• Runaways being beaten on their return.

Smith said the order’s rule book, its Directory and Book of Customs, published in 1921, said its core values were “patience, hospitality, love, respect, compassion and justice”. It stressed that babies needed to be treated in a “gentle, motherly way” and children spoken to “with kindness and mildness”.

However, the directory also enforced extremely strict rules, including requiring children to sleep on their backs with their arms crossed over their chests, and it allowed “severe corporal punishment”, including whipping and caning. Children were routinely cleaned with Jeyes Fluid, a strong commercial disinfectant, or had carbolic soap forced into their mouths.

She said the culture of violence was perpetuated by the order’s heavy emphasis on the strict obedience expected from its members, who were often moved at short notice between different establishments. She said the nuns learned abusive practices from their older peers, were discouraged from questioning orders and no effort was made to review their disciplinary culture.

Smith, who detailed abuse by nuns at the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul in October, is due to issue detailed recommendations when her full report is published at a later date.

In her conclusions on the Sisters of Nazareth, she said: “It is apparent to me that records made suggesting that the homes were happy places where children received ‘every care and affection’ from devoted sisters are a gross distortion of what, for many children, was the reality of their lives, a reality which included cruel, brutal and dehumanising treatment.”

The Sisters of Nazareth issued a statement on Thursday, thanking Smith for the care she had taken with the report. “Her report details the suffering and abuse endured by some of the children in our homes and for that we are deeply ashamed,” the order said.

“As we have said before, we apologise wholeheartedly and unreservedly to those who suffered any form of mistreatment.

“We want to pay tribute to the courage of those survivors who testified to the inquiry. From listening to their testimonies and reading the report we know how deeply the experiences of those years in care have affected their lives. We realise that no apology can do justice to their childhood experience or heal these lasting memories and we are profoundly sorry for having failed them at the time.”

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