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"What About Torture?"

May 31, 2009 — Categories: , ,

“Punching, flogging, assault and bodily attacks, hitting with the hand, kicking, ear pulling, hair pulling, head shaving, beating on the soles of the feet, burning, scalding, stabbing, severe beatings with or without clothes, being made to kneel and stand in fixed positions for lengthy periods, made to sleep outside overnight . . .”

“Punching, flogging, assault and bodily attacks, hitting with the hand, kicking, ear pulling, hair pulling, head shaving, beating on the soles of the feet, burning, scalding, stabbing, severe beatings with or without clothes, being made to kneel and stand in fixed positions for lengthy periods, made to sleep outside overnight . . .

. . . being forced into cold or excessively hot baths and showers, hosed down with cold water before being beaten, beaten while hanging from hooks on the wall, being set upon by dogs, being restrained in order to be beaten, physical assaults by more than one person, and having objects thrown at them.”

No, we are not discussing the torture of Iraqi prisoners. But we could be. Instead this is the description of the torture of children who were in the care of Irish Roman Catholic institutions between the 1930s and 1990s. The latest report presented by a state-appointed commission describes the abuse of thousands of children many of whom were taken from their families because of poverty and abuse.

While the report delineates the physical and sexual abuse of males and females in great detail, and holds the church accountable, it refuses to name names. Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, said this: “The report is significant in that it provides a detailed anatomy of how the abuse occurred and the institutions in which it occurred. The problem is that you spend almost 10 years and who knows how much money, and you never get to the point of saying who was responsible.”

So what is the point after all? The partial truth has been told, many survivors have received some compensation, and these institutions are now closed. But what about those hundreds of individuals who were responsible for this sadistic cruelty and others who colluded and covered it up? And what about the question: how could institutions representing the faith community whose teachings are profoundly contrary to this evil tolerate this widespread torture of children for so many years?

Instead of simply suggesting that “that was then, this is now” and we move on, I would think that the faith community would seek to do some serious soul searching, to address individual accountability and to affirm what steps are required to insure that this doesn’t happen again.

Torture is torture is torture. Whether it is carried out by the state or the church, if it is in fact contrary to our values, we cannot allow cynicism to reduce us all to this lowest common denominator and then just walk away. Injustice unexamined does have a way of repeating itself.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute

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