Institutional abuse: NI report scathing at how Nazareth homes were run
Inquiries on both sides of Border criticised care in homes run by Sisters of Nazareth
The Historical Institutional Abuse report found that “the development of Nazareth House and Nazareth Lodge was motivated by the drive on the part of the Roman Catholic Church to provide services for Catholic children, so that they would not need to be admitted to workhouses, state institutions or homes run by non-Catholic organisations where the Church felt that their spiritual needs might not be met appropriately”. File photograph: Getty Images
The Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry (HIA) report last January was unequivocal in its findings about the Nazareth House (girls) and Nazareth Lodge (boys) homes in Belfast, both run by the Sisters of Nazareth.
It investigated abuses in Northern Ireland residential institutions for children in the period between 1922 and 1995.
The HIA report concluded that at the homes in Belfast “the shortage of finance and its consequent impact on staffing levels and physical standards of care amounted to a form of neglect and constituted systemic abuse. Although both central government and the welfare authorities bore some responsibility, this was primarily the responsibility of the Sisters of Nazareth.”
Up to the 1960s, the state, it said, “was content to allow the Sisters to continue to proceed as before, relying solely on the funds they could raise from the Catholic community to cover their running costs”.
The HIA report found that “the development of Nazareth House and Nazareth Lodge was motivated by the drive on the part of the Roman Catholic Church to provide services for Catholic children, so that they would not need to be admitted to workhouses, state institutions or homes run by non-Catholic organisations where the Church felt that their spiritual needs might not be met appropriately”.
“This was a matter of considerable concern to the Roman Catholic Church in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as there was some active proselytisation to attract children to become Protestants.”
The Sisters “wished to remain self-sufficient, in order to avoid becoming beholden to the state. The consequence of the Sisters’ approach was that, while the nuns themselves received no salary and only required their keep, the Order had insufficient resources to appoint paid staff,” it said.
For most of the relevant decades it was a similar story in the residential institution for children run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Sligo.
On Thursday, July 22nd, 2004, Sr Cornelia Walsh of the Sisters of Nazareth told the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Ryan Commission) that they had dealt with 1,851 children at their Sligo home between 1910 and its closure in 1993.
Allegations of physical and sexual abuse “against persons other than sisters” began to emerge in the mid-1990s, she said. There were also allegations of “administration of harsh discipline by a Sister” and about the home itself.
These allegations had dismayed the congregation, she said.
In its 2009 report, the Ryan commission, having noted the Sisters of Nazareth operated a residential home for boys and girls in Sligo, commented starkly in one single line given a pararaph to itself (1.144) that: “The Sisters of Nazareth have not issued a public apology.”
The report noted, however, that the Sisters had contributed to the State redress scheme, quoting “Sr Cornelia Walsh, Sister Superior of the Congregation”.
She said: “We consider that the Government’s initiative in recognising the shared involvement of the State and those who sought to supplement and provide care which the State could not, was a very worthy one, particularly as it offered a non-adversarial and speedy avenue for those seeking and needing redress.”
At the HIA inquiry in Northern Ireland, the Sisters of Nazareth did apologise for the treatment of children at their homes in Belfast.
On January 15th, 2014, Turlough Montague QC, representing the Sisters, said members of the congregation were “appalled and shocked” by some of the testimonies.
On behalf of the Sisters, he apologised unreservedly “for any abuse suffered by children in their care”.
Where such residential institutions for children in the South were concerned, the 2009 Ryan report said: “The (State) Inspector found that malnourishment was a serious problem in schools run by nuns in the 1940s and, although improvements were made, the food provided in many of these schools continued to be meagre and basic.”
Despite that, State assistance to or involvement with such Church-run institutions remained a matter of deep suspicion where senior Catholic Church figures were concerned, right up to recent times.
In an address at the Humbert School in Castlebar, Co Mayo, on August 23rd, 2001, then Bishop of Ferns Brendan Comiskey said the Catholic Church “should have learned a long time ago to use a very long spoon in dealing with government”.
He said “the State’s tune is not, and should never be, the tune of any church” and that “a faith-based agency, in receipt of substantial State funding, will gradually become a place where the ‘volunteer’ will gradually be equated with ‘amateur’ and will become an oddity, and shortly a casualty, in an organisation of professionals,” he said.
Dealings between Church and State were “never a marriage of equals, there is no prenuptial agreement and the divorce proceedings can be very bitter and financially ruinous. The history of Irish industrial schools is but one example”, he said.