Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Just Another Child Abuse Scandal.

Smyllum Park, Lanarkshire, as it appears today.
Hundreds of Scottish orphanage children allegedly buried in mass grave | UK news | The Guardian

Normally, when people talk about systematic, institutionalised child abuse, we think of priests and male teachers abusing vulnerable children in their care or over whom they have trusted authority. It speaks of the sheer volume of these cases that yet another exposure barely rate a mention in the news any more. It's as though we have come to expect men of the cloth to abuse their power for their own gratification.

But, despite the documented abuses in Ireland and Spain where it was nuns, sometimes with the connivance of priests, who were doing the abusing, it still comes as something of a shock when we hear of female clerics abusing children. Somehow it seems even sicker when a supposedly maternal female is looking at children as a source of amusement and sexual or sadistic gratification, yet these cases seem to have been no less prevalent in institutions where nuns were in similar positions of power over children as are the abusive priests.

Today, we have another shocking example.

A joint investigation by BBC Radio 4's File on Four and the Scotland-based Sunday Post newspaper has uncovered what appears to have been grotesque abuses of orphaned children at the Smyllum Park orphanage, Lanarkshire, Scotland, operated from 1864 until it closed in 1981, by nuns of the Catholic order of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. During this time some 11,600 children, either orphaned or from broke homes, were cared for at the orphanage.

The death rate at the orphanage was some three times that for children of the same age in that area of Scotland at that time.

Although records were kept of the deaths of the children there, there doesn't appear to have been any record of their burial. The majority of deaths occurred between 1870 and 1930 with about a third of them being children under the age of five. Most of the deaths appear to have been from natural causes, including TB, pneumonia and pleurisy. Although they refused to give the number of deaths at Smyllum Park to the Scottish child abuse inquiry earlier this summer they have since claimed only about 120 children died. However, File of Four researchers searching through archives found death certificates for 402 children.

In 2003 former residents of the orphanage, Frank Docherty and Jim Kane, found a burial plot containing the bodies of a number of children in nearby St Marys Cemetery. Sadly, both Frank and Jim died earlier this year. They had alleged that physical and mental abuse of the children was commonplace, with routine punching, beating and public humiliation. They believed that the number of deaths was far higher then the 120 the nuns claim.

One of the bodies believed to be buried in the mass grave at St Marys is that of 13 year-old Francis McColl who died in 1961. His death certificate records that he died of a 'brain haemorrage' but his brother, Eddie, who has spent years trying to uncover the truth about Francis was told that he had been struck on the head by a golf club. However, Eddie could find no record of where his brother had been buried.

The File on Four program, to be aired tonight on BBC Radio 4 at 20:17, will reveal multiple allegation of physical and mental abuse at Smyllum Park, carried out by nuns of the Daughters of Charity order.

This case mirrors the Tuam mother and baby home scandal, in which 800 babies and young children in an Irish institution run by a religious order, died and were buried in unmarked graves between the 1920s and 1960s. Many of the bodies were disposed of by being thrown into a disused septic tank in the grounds of the home.

What makes these cases all the more appalling is the social attitudes displayed by the nuns, where orphans and children from broken homes, like these victims of Tuam and the Magdalen Laundries, were considered lesser beings, not deserving respect and dignity as human beings and children in need. This comes from a creed that teaches that children are the product of sin and somehow deserve their lowly position. These abuses don't just amount to abuse or neglect; they amount to contempt and a wanton disregard for the rights and entitlement to dignity of the children in their care.

Religions that debase human beings in this way have something rotten at their core.

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  1. There are so many of these I shouldn't be shocked any more, but I am. This is so horrific. Thank you for writing about it William, or might not hear about it in the rest of the world.

    1. We seem to have become so used to these scandals that people just shrug their shoulders and accept that they used to do things like that in those days. Maybe we'll get another hand-wringing apology and an assurance that the church will cooperate fully with any official investigation and has reformed so that this sort of thing can't happen again... and then nothing. No deeper analysis of what it is about religion that allows people to be both pious and abusive; to pretend to love and care for humanity whilst subjecting vulnerable people to humiliation and abuse as less than human.

      And of course no confrontation of the fact that a superstition which relegates human beings to the status of unworthy sinners and somehow to blame for their own misfortune, lies at the heart of what amounts to a contempt for the lower orders and justifies 'punishing' them for their sins.

      And what of the selection process that puts people who are so obsessed with the idea that sex is sinful and dirty that they view the products of it - children - as objects of contempt, in positions where they can vent their bile on them.

    2. I think the attitude of these nuns, and probably of priests as well, was summed up very well in the film Philomena. Philomena (Judie Dench) and Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) had discovered that Philomena's son, who had been taken from her at birth and given to an American couple by the nuns at the unmarried mothers' home in Ireland, had come back t the home when dying of AIDS, looking for information to find his mother before he died. The now ancient nun, Sister Hildegarde McNulty, refused to give him the information and he died never having met his birth mother. McNulty said his death had been Philomena's penance. When Sixsmith confronted her, she looked at Philomena with sneering contempt and spat, "You took your knickers down!"

      This terrible 'sin' justified the most inhumane of treatment in the eyes of a devout Catholic nun.


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