- Volume 1
- Volume 2
- Social and demographic profile of witnesses
- Circumstances of admission
- Family contact
- Everyday life experiences (male witnesses)
- Record of abuse (male witnesses)
- Everyday life experiences (female witnesses)
- Record of abuse (female witnesses)
- Positive memories and experiences
- Current circumstances
- Introduction to Part 2
- Special needs schools and residential services
- Children’s Homes
- Foster care
- Primary and second-level schools
- Residential Laundries, Novitiates, Hostels and other settings
- Concluding comments
- Volume 4
Chapter 6 — Christian BrothersBack
Impact of religious life on institutional care
A circular letter from the Superior General, Br P. J. Hennessy, in 1926 went into the nature of the vow of chastity in some detail. He wrote: In a discourse on “The Education of the Child”, Pere Lacordaire says: “It is necessary, above all, to love one’s pupil: to love him in God, not with a weak and sensual affection, but with a sincere affection which knows how to preserve firmness”. The child’s spiritual endowments and the end to which he is destined naturally cause the thoughtful religious to “love him in God”, while his natural charms tend to excite that “weak and sensual affection” that may easily prove to be ruinous to the child and teacher. Here is a DANGER SIGNAL that should never be lowered and should ever be heeded. The teacher who allows himself any softness in his intercourse with his pupil, who does not repress the tendency to “pets”, who fondles the young or indulges in other weaknesses, is not heeding the danger signal and may easily fall. Disastrous results for teacher and pupil have sometimes resulted from such heedlessness and effeminacy. Chapter VIII, Part I, of our Constitutions in its different articles, sets forth salutary precautions in this connection.
Assertions by some members of the Congregation that they had no awareness of the possibility of Brothers sexually abusing boys were not supported by the Acts of Chapter or the documentation.
Br Hennessy went on to exhort teachers to impress on their pupils the importance of purity: They must rigidly refrain from all unnecessary freedoms with their persons at all times. In bed they ought to fold their arms over their breasts in the form of a cross, and before falling asleep pray to their Guardian Angel to preserve them from every dangerous thought or act during the night.
As early as 1887, the Superior General was explicit in pointing out the danger of sexual activity amongst the boys: With vigilance in the playground is intimately connected watchfulness in regard to the conduct of boys in and about the water-closets ... Much harm may be done, and sin not unfrequently committed, in those places, if the necessary precautions be not taken, and if wholesome discipline be not strictly enforced ... A serious responsibility rests on the Brothers in this matter, if through their carelessness or want of proper caution any of their pupils should come to learn evil they knew not before.
Although these advices were sent out to all Communities, they do not appear to have formed part of the training Brothers received. Some Brothers spoke of their lack of any awareness of the possibility of peer abuse among the boys in their care. The Committee heard evidence, however, that peer abuse was a constant and serious problem in industrial schools.
The vow of obedience required Brothers to obey their Superiors in all things that pertained, directly or indirectly, to the life of the Congregation, as well as their vows and the Constitutions of the Congregation. They owed their entire obedience to the Superior General of the Congregation and to their immediate Superiors. The reason for this total obedience was explained as follows: The motive of obedience should be the spirit of faith whereby the Brothers consider their Superiors as the representatives of Jesus Christ in their regard; hence they must always show them honour, esteem and reverence.14
This vow of obedience permeated every aspect of life within the Congregation and was something the Brothers and former Brothers who gave evidence to the Committee spoke about at length. Apart from the obvious implications of the vow, the main way in which it affected Brothers was in their interactions with their seniors, in particular their reluctance to criticise them. The chapters on specific schools disclose cases where the obligation to be subject to the will of the Superior and to serve the interests of the Congregation discouraged or prevented Brothers from reporting abuse, or making protests about objectionable behaviour, or even making suggestions as to improvements. In some circumstances, it inhibited the reporting of suspicions about sexual misconduct on the part of other Brothers.
The importance of the vow is emphasised by Constitution 62, which requires the General Council to be careful not to admit to the profession of vows by any Brother who in his conduct shows a ‘want of submission, and due respect for, those placed over him’ or a ‘litigious and critical spirit’. A Brother who deviated from this duty to obey was quickly reminded of his position. One former Brother described his experience of obedience thus: I think the vow of obedience was conceived of as being partly like military discipline. Indeed, the priests who gave the Brothers their retreats and so on, and the 30-day retreat we had in the novitiate, all from Jesuits, and they’d famously have a military metaphor for what they’d do. I think there was a certain amount of that, this was like the army and you just obey. But that’s not what I understood as the vow of obedience, I think the vow of obedience was an internal – if I can use the kind of language that I think would have learned – an internal resignation of your will to the will of your Superior. The most important thing about obedience was not what you did but how you thought. I certainly would have believed that when I was that age, yes.
The same witness described some of the more unusual ways in which obedience was tested while the Novices were in training. He recalled how Novices were made to walk about with no coats or hats in bad weather, and he went on to describe one incident when he was put to the test. He told the Committee: The one I remember in terms of work was being told to move a pile of stones in part of the garden, I think, an old shrubbery from there to literally the far side of the table and spending several days doing it with an old wheelbarrow, when it was all finished he came around and said, “That is very good now. Excellent. Now would you move them all back again please”. You were meant to say, “certainly, Brother”, which I did being a very good boy.... It was a bit silly really but we just accepted it.
This unnecessary labour had a function: it was an exercise in discipline and obedience. The vow of obedience taken by all perpetually professed Brothers required them to obey their legitimate superiors. The Superior was empowered to impose ‘such penances or humiliations as his faults or the usage of the Community may require.’15
The Brothers and former Brothers who gave evidence recounted a number of examples of the punishments, often humiliating, that were meted out to Brothers who disobeyed. A number of respondent witnesses described how their Superiors verbally admonished them. Discipline seemed to be harder on the younger Brothers.
Brothers were required to exercise discipline in their daily lives. They rose early for prayer and Mass, and were required according to the rules of the Congregation to live an asectic and spiritual life with few comforts. They practised fasting, and mortification of the flesh, in order to perfect their communion with God. Visitation Reports contained long and detailed accounts of the Brothers’ religious observances, and any laxity on the part of the Superior in enforcing the Rule was a matter for comment.
The Christian Brothers were obliged ‘not to maintain any intercourse with externs’ without permission from their immediate Superior. Brothers were not allowed to read newspapers, listen to the radio, visit friends or attend outside functions or sporting events without express permission. Walks had to be taken in the company of at least one other Brother.
Correspondence from lay people, particularly containing complaint or criticism, was treated with suspicion and hostility. The documents revealed an anxiety on the part of the Congregation to avoid scandal or adverse comment, which dominated its relationship with the outside world.
The injunction against undue familiarity with lay people was even more strictly enforced in the case of women. Brothers were instructed to keep all conversations with mothers or female friends of the children in their care to the minimum. One consequence of this was that the Christian Brothers’ institutions became all-male worlds. Numerous witnesses gave evidence to the Investigation Committee about the problems caused by the lack of female involvement in the day-to-day operation of the schools.
- The Holy See is the episcopal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, commonly known as the Pope.
- B. Coldrey, Faith and Fatherland. The Christian Brothers and the Development of Nationalism, 1838–1921 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1988), p 22.
- There are currently 122 schools in the Christian Brother network in Ireland, according to the Marino Institute of Education website.
- Constitutions (1923).
- The general assembly of representatives from the Congregation of the Christian Brothers.
- Commission of Inquiry into the Reformatory and Industrial School System Report, 1936 (the Cussen Report) (Dublin: Stationery Office).
- A Visitor was a Congregational Inspector who reported back to the leadership of the Congregation. See Supervision/Visitations below.
- An association where the main object is the well-being and improvement of a different group of persons, such as men, women and children, or more specially, priests, youths, church helpers, prisoners, immigrants, nurses, married people, couples, etc.
- Cn 653.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.
- Congregation of the Christian Brothers 1962, Chapter VIII ‘Chastity’, p 23 section 81.
- Const 8 of the 1923 Constitutions.
- Const 97 of the 1923 Constitutions.
- Congregation of the Christian Brothers 1962, Chapter XIII ‘Mortifications & Humilitations’, p 30 section 128.
- The Cussen Report 1936 – Commission of Inquiry into the Reformatory and Industrial School System, para 74.
- This is a pseudonym.
- There were three programmes broadcast by RTE in 1999 in the ‘States of Fear’ series: ‘Industrial Schools and Reformatories from the 1940s-1980s’, ‘The Legacy of Industrial Schools’, and ‘Sick and Disabled Children in Institutions’.
- Suffer the Little Children, by Mary Raftery and Eoin O’Sullivan, 1999, New Island.
- O’Brien Institute.
- This is a pseudonym.
- P394 Circular Letters 1821–1930
- Department of Education Annual Report 1925/1926.
- Report of the Department of Education for the School Years 1925–26–27 and the Financial and Administrative Year 1926–1927, p 83.
- Report of the Department of Education for the School Year 1924–1925 and the Financial and Administrative Years 1924–25–26, p 84.
- Rules and Regulations for the Certified Industrial Schools in Saorstát Éireann Approved by the Minister of Education under the 54th Section of the Act, 8 Edw VII., Ch 67, clauses 12 and 13 (see DES chapter).
- Rules and Regulations for the Certified Industrial Schools in Saorstát Éireann Approved by the Minister of Education under the Children Act, 1908.
- The Department submit this wording ‘education provision’ in other words the internal national school.
- Section 24 of The Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 provided:
- the rule of law under which teachers are immune from criminal liability in respect of physical chastisement of pupils is hereby abolished.
- With the removal of this immunity, teachers are now subject to section 2(1) of the 1997 Act which provides that:
- a person shall be guilty of the offence of assault, who without lawful excuse, intentionally or recklessly, directly or indirectly applies force to and causes an impact on the body of another.Teachers who physically chastise pupils may now be guilty of an offence and liable to 12 months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of £1,500.
- This is a pseudonym.