It was not so much a “march of misery” than one of memories. There was plenty of both as many as five thousand people walked silently through the street of the capital Dublin to the seat of the Irish Government, Dail Eireann to remember the thousands of children who suffered abuse in the more that 216 Irish institutions run by religious orders for 70 years until they were closed down in the late 1970's. I marched with them to remember and walk in solidarity and to join my voice to those who have vowed to defend children's rights without compromise.
There were survivors on the march, the relatives of the victims and thousands of supporters, it was dignified and yet emotional. Christine Buckely, a survivor and campaigner for justice for victims of clerical abuse spoke powerfully of the ten years of struggle to have their voices heard, their suffering acknowledged and just recompense made. “This was the day they were all striving for” she said. The long awaited Ryan Report on the history of child abuse in the church-run industrial schools finally exposed the extent and severity of the physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse they suffered.
The march was their way of telling Irish society and the world, that they could be ignored no longer, as if saying “we told you so, but you would not listen”. Their allegations have now been heard and heeded, their long quelled and suppressed complaints and cries for truth and justice have been vindicated.
President Mary McAleese who said that those responsible for the criminal acts of abuse against children should be brought to justice. She will hold a reception for about 400 of the former residents of these institutions on 28 June at the Presidential home. John Kelly, a founder of Survivor of Child Abuse, Ireland, said “You cannot underestimate what this means, we are deeply indebted to the President for this. What it says to survivors is: “Now you are valued as citizens of this country from which many of us fled”.
The Bishops of Ireland in a common statement said: “The Ryan Report represents the most recent disturbing indictment of a culture that was prevalent in the Catholic Church in Ireland for far too long. Heinous crimes were perpetrated against the most innocent and vulnerable and vile acts with-life lasting effects were carried out under the guise of the mission of Jesus Christ. This abuse represents a serious betrayal of the trust which was placed on the Church.
Cardinal Sean Brady expressed remorse on behalf of the church and the religious .”We are ashamed, humbled and repentant that our people strayed so far from their Christian ideals, for this we ask forgiveness”, he said. It was the result of “a culture that was prevalent in the Catholic Church in Ireland for far too long”.
The Department of Education has admitted it's complicity and fault in ignoring the reports of abuse and for turning over the care and education of children to the brothers and sisters of the Catholic religious orders. The judicial system was also complicit in assigning the children to these residential institutions.
But not all were silent during the years of systematic abuse. A brave and courageous priest Father Henry Moore, the chaplain of the Artane Boys Industrial School wrote an exposé of the abuse in a 1962 report but this was suppressed and rejected by the government and the priest was vilified by a government committee that choose to cover up the clergy abuse. A compliant press was also accused of ignoring the report. However, victims began to speak out and towards the end of 1970, the horrors being revealed forced the Church and government to close them down.
However, the pain and suffering has not been closed down and today, it is being heard in all its shocking details. It must be another “Never Again” part of history, yet it will be ”again and again”, unless we are vigilant and proactive in protecting children against any act of child neglect and abuse. In this is the hope that it will “never be again”.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a Catholic priest, born in Ireland, who serves the poor of the Phillipines. A human rights advocate, he has worked to free children from sex trafficking and prostitution.