For Ireland's Catholic Schools, a Catalog of Horrors

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Peter Morrison/AP

A crow flies past the People's Cross in Phoenix Park in Dublin

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Raftery believes that the exhaustive nature of the report explodes one of the most persistent myths surrounding child-abuse scandals in Ireland. Before now, incidents had largely been blamed on individual clergy. Ryan's findings, however, reveal an entire system that was rotten at the core and showed scant regard for the welfare of the children placed in its care.

The Christian Brothers ran more industrial schools in Ireland than any other religious order. Indeed, for much of the 20th century, the group was responsible for providing primary and secondary education for the majority of Catholic boys in the country. The order has come under fire from campaigners like Raftery for allegedly blocking the work of the child-abuse commission. The inquiry was delayed for more than a year, after the Christian Brothers won a court case preventing members and former members from being named in the commission's final report — including those who had already been convicted of abuse. "There was a very serious worry about injustices being done to [brothers] who were dead or to living people who were accused and who maintained their innocence," says Brother Edmund Garvey, a spokesman for the order. "But there was no intention to obstruct or delay [the commission]."

The damning indictment of the Christian Brothers in the report has raised questions about the order's future — and that of other religious congregations in Ireland. In an increasingly secularized country, what place do religious orders have, now that their reputations are in tatters? "It is a major crisis for us from a public-perception point of view," says Garvey. "There were people who believed they were doing the very best for these kids, but that was ruined by the unconscionable actions of a number of people. Is it irreparable damage? I would hope not, but there is a huge task of reconciliation and helping damaged people [repair] their lives."

Child-abuse scandals involving priests are not new in Ireland. A series of high-profile pedophilia cases in the 1990s helped bring about the collapse of a government and, together with the country's economic boom, severely diminished the Church's long-held influence over Irish society. The findings of this most recent report, however, could drive that wedge deeper than ever before. "I don't see how [the religious orders] can ever recover from this," says Raftery. "Not just from the way they responded to the knowledge of abuse [but also] from their continuing cover-up of it over the last decade, when people were trying to get answers."

For some victims' groups, the battle to expose the truth has only just begun. Protesters outside the Dublin hotel where the report was presented to the media (victims and their families were not allowed to attend) said they would pursue their abusers in court and seek criminal prosecutions. To date, more than $193 million in compensation has been paid by the Irish government to victims of abuse in residential institutions.

Former industrial-school resident Quinn says he didn't speak to anyone about his experiences for more than 30 years. It was only after the first wave of scandals broke in the '90s that he felt able to tell his story. "Years ago, if I had mentioned to anyone here what had happened, no one would have believed me," he says. "Everyone here thought that whatever a priest or a brother said was the gospel truth. It's only since all of this blew up that people started saying to me, 'Did that really happen in the schools?' Now I can turn round and say, 'Yes, it did.' "

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