DUBLIN (Reuters) - Victims of sexual abuse and neglect in Catholic-run schools and orphanages in Ireland swamped counseling services on Thursday after the publication of the harrowing findings of a nine-year investigation.
The litany of violence, published on Wednesday, lifted the lid on one of the darkest chapters in Irish history and prompted scores of victims to end decades of silence.
“We’ve had 30 times as many calls as usual and our phone lines are always quite busy,” said Bernadette Fahy of the Aislinn Center, an organization set up by an abuse victim.
“We have had to close the center because we haven’t been able to cope with the amount of people coming in.
“It’s extraordinary the number of people who are contacting services for the first time.”
Ireland’s health service said it had to draft in extra staff to deal with the volume of callers.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, chaired by a High Court Judge, said priests and nuns had flogged, starved and, in some cases, raped children in Ireland’s now defunct network of industrial and reformatory schools from the 1930s.
Religious authorities knew about the abuse but covered it up. The Irish government colluded in the silence.
A lawsuit by the Christian Brothers led the commission to drop its original intention to name the abusers and no one will be prosecuted as a result.
Sexual abuse scandals have rocked the Church around the world. Pope Benedict publicly apologized to victims in Australia last year and met others in the United States in an effort to heal the scars.
In 2007, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to 500 victims in the largest compensation deal of its kind. There have been 107 convictions for sexual abuse in Australia.
“Australia’s response was quite immediate, quite thorough and very effective,” a source close to the country’s National Committee for Professional Leaders, a group set up by church leaders to deal with abuse cases, told Reuters, comparing it to Ireland’s action.
The report comes on the heels of a spate of scandals about sex-predator priests that have dislodged the Catholic Church from its pre-eminent position in Ireland. But the depravity revealed in its contents still came as a huge shock.
“I think it’s a defining moment in Irish history,” said Father Michael Mernagh who embarked on an eight-day walk for the victims of child sex abuse earlier this year.
“It was far more shocking than I imagined. I would ask people to sit down, read it and weep.”
Details of ritual humiliation, torture and slave labor were splashed across Ireland’s newspapers. The Irish Times described the report as “the map of an Irish hell” while the tabloid Irish Daily Mirror’s front page simply read “You evil monsters.”
Ireland’s President Mary McAleese praised the victims, now mostly in their 50s to 80s, for demanding the truth.
“This report utterly vindicates their determination to break that silence,” she said in a statement.
But many felt cheated that there will be no prosecutions.
“I’m so angry. I should be filled with hope but I’m not,” said Christine Buckley, founder of the Aislinn Center.
Reporting by Carmel Crimmins and Padraic Halpin; Additional reporting by Alison Shine; editing by Robert Woodward