There also appeared to be a dearth of written information on sexual abuse in their schools before 1979, when the issue first came to the notice of the management of the Institute at that time. This belief, that no documentation existed, was reflected in a General Statement submitted by Fr Matthew Gaffney to the Investigation Committee on 3rd May 2002.
In 2002, Fr Matthew Gaffney, the Provincial of the Irish Province of the Institute of Charity, submitted a general statement on behalf of the Order to the Committee. In this statement, he accepted that corporal punishment was used as ‘a general disciplinary measure’, and was also used as ‘a punishment or deterrent’ for bed-wetting, absconding and other infringements. The use of corporal punishment, he said, had to be seen in two contexts: first, from the perspective of the Institution, and second, in the light of the ‘social attitudes of the time’. From an institutional perspective, he asserted that the ‘maintenance of control was an absolute necessity’, and was achieved through the use of corporal punishment. He accepted that its use ‘produced a disciplinary environment in which the distinction between punishment and abuse could become blurred’. Indeed, he accepted that abuse had occurred in the administration of some corporal punishment, and he apologised for this fact.
The Rosminians prepared a respondent statement in response to each complainant’s allegations of physical abuse. This statement was furnished to the Commission by Fr Matt Gaffney, Provincial Superior, in May 2002. It further clarified the attitude of the Order to the era when corporal punishment was in widespread use. He wrote: Corporal punishment should be seen in an institutional context where the maintenance of control was an absolute necessity, and in particular in the light of social attitudes of the time. It is true that the ideal of child-care in Industrial Schools was to avoid corporal punishment when possible, but that unfortunately provided an aspiration without the means of achieving it. The absence of child-care training left staff at the schools without any practical policy other than personal judgment, which was fallible and always hard-pressed. The use of corporal punishment as a general disciplinary measure, and its uses also as a punishment or deterrent for bed wetting, absconding and other infractions, in times when corporal punishment was generally socially acceptable, produced a disciplinary environment in which the distinction between punishment and abuse could become blurred.
Fr Gaffney also stated that he had asked the Superior General of the Rosminian Order in Rome, Fr James Flynn, to carry out a search for documents containing references to sexual abuse through all the records of correspondence between the Generalate and the Irish and English Provinces. This search disclosed a considerable number of documents, 68 in all, dating from 1936 to 1968. They dealt with, among other things, seven sexual abusers who worked in Upton. The Rosminians provided this information, together with the questionnaires and related material, to the Committee in May 2004. These documents proved to be very significant and came to be known as the Rome files.
During cross-examination, counsel for the Rosminians apologised for the abuse that this witness received. He asked him how Fr Santino was perceived. The complainant replied that he remembered Fr Santino as being very approachable, with a great way with children. He would talk to them all day. Fr Gaffney accepted his allegations in his responding statement: I have no justification for doubting the complaint of sexual interference made against Fr Santino, and those actions were shameful and wrong. I apologise for the hurt inflicted on [this witness] and for the association of the Rosminian Institute of Charity for that conduct. It was profoundly against the ideals and expectations of the institute.
Bed-wetting was a persistent problem for some of the boys in the School. It was treated as a disciplinary issue by the Rosminians, and they attempted to solve the problem by the use of physical punishment. They sought at the time to halt the problem by waking children during the night to go to the toilet. Boys who wet the bed were known as ‘slashers’ and were placed in a separate section of the dormitory. Each morning, these boys had to take their wet sheets or mattresses to the boiler house to dry. Fr Matthew Gaffney, in his general statement in 2002, accepted that this was the regime regarding bed-wetting, but stated that: In past decades the psychological nature of the difficulty was not understood, and it was thought that deterrence through corporal punishment or embarrassment in front of others was an appropriate remedy. I can appreciate by present standards, that such a response was obviously humiliating and unfair.
Fr Matthew Gaffney, Provincial of the Rosminians, made a written response to these allegations on behalf of the Order in 2001. He stated that ‘the passage of time since the event described ... make it impossible for me either to respond to them or to investigate them adequately ...’. However, he added that ‘if the allegations of sexual abuse made by the complainant are true, the abuse was shameful and horrific, and I should apologise for the terrible injury he must have suffered’.