170,000: it is the number of children that, according to the Irish Department of Education, have been physically and sexually abused between 1936 and 1970 in the “industrial schools”, those god-forsaken places in which orphans or poor children were placed to receive primary education. In a terrifying and horrifying article in the Irish Times, appropriately named “law of anarchy, cruelty of care“, the schools supervised by none other than Catholic Nuns and Brothers are turning up a tale of torture, sexual abuse, and constant humiliation. If  modern young children were taught to fear the abandonment, loneliness and depravity experienced by Dickens character, these real-life stories will make 19th century London look like a holiday. 170,000 lives permanently destroyed and shocked, recently discovered by a society that had firmly believed its days of utter poverty and infant mortality was behind it.

Ireland is facing one of its most crucial trial today, as it reveals that an entire school system was based on treatments extremely similar to those experienced by Holocaust victims in their concentration camps. In the many reports currently piling up on the Taoiseach’s desk are several references to Dachau and Drancy. Dr. Norman Stewart, in a letter he wrote to the Irish Times and that was later reported in the aforementioned article, explained it felt like “observing lines of desultory prisoners as they trudged through the neighbourhood on their way to and from their workplaces”. The same torture techniques (systematic loss of identity, mental disorientation, constant humiliation and comparison to animals) were applied to children. In many cases, handed out to the Brothers by distant relatives or by the State, the Catholic Church was supposed to uphold its own value of charity and equality, giving children the same opportunities than more abundant ones benefited from; instead, their lives were turned into a nightmare. Survivors of the Brothers’ school system experience a complete isolation from the rest of society and no longer feel included, as one former “inmate” tells the Irish Times: “It’s like men at war who experience things cannot bring these things back to people in the street because people would not understand the situation that they were in. They dehumanised themselves. They dehumanised their enemy in order to be able to psychologically deal with killing them. The same is true when I came out of Daingean and I am looking at all of these people in the street and I am thinking they don’t know where I have been and they couldn’t understand me.”

The question remains as to what pushed the Irish Brothers and Sisters to behave in such an atrocious fashion, systematically, and nationally, in a country that no longer experienced war, conflict, trouble, or famine of any kind. If the social context of the Republic of Ireland post World War 2 left to be desired, a common drive towards improvement was to be felt, especially after Ireland joined the European Union in 1973. Although Ireland remained economically and socially more conservative than its western european counterparts, never had it upheld any suspicious standards  – yet the abuse was nothing new. This is how former first President of the Republic, Eamon de Valera, had been informed of the regular violence in the Artane institution as early as 1956, and that John McQuaid, the Archbishop of Dublin in 1962, had been called to regulate his congregation the suffering in the area had become too much to bear for the neighbours.

Even if Pope Benedict XVI was challenged to start a Vatican inquiry on the matter,  a “hear none speak none” policy might have already been implemented within the Catholic Church. Blogger Maho reports that the London Evening Standard proved that Pope Benedict XVI had plead for a cover-up of child abuse :

In 2001, while [the current Pope Benedict] was a cardinal, he issued a secret Vatican edict to Catholic bishops all over the world, instructing them to put the Church’s interests ahead of child safety. The document recommended that rather than reporting sexual abuse to the relevant legal authorities, bishops should encourage the victim, witnesses and perpetrator not to talk about it. And, to keep victims quiet, it threatened that if they repeat the allegations they would be excommunicated.

starting with an internal investigation within several institutions on the island, Ireland is now withdrawing within itself and wondering how such a nightmare could have been endured, on such a wide scale, without any prior alarms. The still overwhelming grasp of the Catholic Church on the country remains one answer, as priests, brothers, and other religious members, of various degrees of hierarchy, are still trusted to teach, to inspire, and to care – regardless of the deviance and the sadism with which they intend to fill that purpose. Newly arrived Brothers were encouraged to show cruelty instead of mercy, and discrimination instead of tolerance – as for a system can only survive if everyone in it takes part within it, as one spark can cause a disintegration. The issue of class is raised, in a country that has seen poverty for too long and is now suffering the blow of the recession even more so than its French of Spanish counterparts; had those children been wealthy, entitled to a fortune allowing them to attend regular schools, or had parents with influence and network, they would have remained safe from harm. Because no one cared for them, catered to them, or simply bothered to check on their well-being, they were left to the devices of those who were too powerful not to abuse of it.

There is no decision so far as to whether Artane and its sister institution in pain will be closed down and dismantled, and if the Order is going to proceed to a thorough spring cleaning.  A “liability deal” will be signed with the Church, allowing secular Courts to handle the prosecutions. A “Commission of Voices” has been set up so victims could tell their experience in a public forum – testimonials that have been republished by the Irish Times in an attempt to call out for the public opinion’s support on the matter. In 2002, a Commission on child abuse committed by the Church (already!) had capped the amount of damages to €127 million, but a new negotiation is in order due to the inflating amount of victims. If most congregations think that the amount is sufficient, Irish MPs believe that the contribution of the Church should be greater than the contribution of the State.Green Party leader John Gormley. He told the Irish Times, “I believe that there is a moral responsibility on the church authorities to live up now to their Christian values and to lead by example. I think the case is overwhelming in relation to this. I think at this stage we need to get around the legal niceties and there is a moral responsibility.”