After the truth

The Ryan Commission has revealed decades of child abuse within institutions run by the Irish Catholi

There are about 150 religious orders based in Ireland. Many of them are very small. All are declining very fast.

Of the 150 or so orders, 18 ran the country’s system of industrial schools and reformatories from the late 19th century until the 1970s, when the last of these institutions was closed.

The system was established during the years of British rule in Ireland. Britain itself had imported the system from Germany, Switzerland and Sweden where it originated in the 19th century. Industrial schools were a response to the problem of the thousands upon thousands of street children, like those Charles Dickens depicted in his novels.

Ten years ago, the Irish Government set up a commission to investigate what happened in our industrial schools; the conditions the children lived in, and how they were treated by those entrusted with their care.

The investigation was prompted by documentaries that told the harrowing stories of many of the former residents of these places, stories of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. Last week this commission, headed by Justice Sean Ryan, issued its report, a report that runs to five volumes and 2600 pages.

I am a journalist. In fact, I attended all of the Ryan Commission's public hearings, as religious affairs correspondent of The Irish Independent through 2004 and 2005. Therefore its findings were terrible to me but not surprising; they were sadly familiar.

But I am also a practising Catholic. To have it confirmed that senior members of the Church to which I belong were guilty of crimes that can only be described as anti-Christ (I think that description is exactly right), is extremely painful.

What Catholics are trying to square is this; Christians are supposed to draw their inspiration from Jesus Christ. His two great commandments were to love God and to love our neighbours. If these two commandments had been at the heart of the work of the religious orders, the institutions they ran would have been far more humane than they were. It is clear, therefore, that they lost sight of the great commandments.

The question is, why?

I think there are a number of reasons. One is that many people who entered the priesthood and religious life in Ireland had no real vocation. They did so for social, family and economic reasons. Another is that the Church was both fed by, and itself fed, the ultra-authoritarian temper of the times.

Furthermore, the Church often became more concerned with moralism than with love, which was a terrible betrayal of the Gospel. Another factor, which is not unique to the Church, is that when one group of people is given great power over another, there will always, always, always be abuses unless necessary precautions are taken. Subsequently, when institutions are confronted with evidence of their own malfeasance, they will cover it up so as to protect their reputations.

This is a terrible time to be a Catholic. We search for explanations for what happened but in the explanations there is no comfort at all. How can there be?

What does this do to my own faith, and to that of other Catholics? One thing it certainly does is to erode trust in the leadership of the Church, the bishops and the heads of religious congregations alike. On the other hand, the scandals, which have been in the public realm since the early 1990s, don’t appear to have accelerated the decline in weekly Mass attendance, which now stands at roughly 40 per cent.

Why is this? I think it’s because people can distinguish between the Church and those who run it. Catholicism is either true or it isn’t irrespective of the behaviour of many of its members.

Many Catholics are hanging on in there despite the scandals because they still believe Catholicism is true.

David Quinn is a columnist for The Irish Independent and a former editor of The Irish Catholic

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Westminster terror: Parliament hit by deadly attack

The Met Police is treating the events in Westminster as a "terrorist incident". 

A terrorist attack outside Parliament in Westminster has left four dead, plus the attacker, and injured at least 40 others. 

Police shot dead a man who attacked officers in front of the parliament building in London, after a grey 4x4 mowed down more than a dozen people on Westminster Bridge.

At least two people died on the bridge, and a number of others were seriously hurt, according to the BBC. The victims are understood to include a group of French teenagers. 

Journalists at the scene saw a police officer being stabbed outside Parliament, who was later confirmed to have died. His name was confirmed late on Wednesday night as Keith Palmer, 48.

The assailant was shot by other officers, and is also dead. The Met Police confirmed they are treating the events as a "terrorist incident". There was one assailant, whose identity is known to the police but has not yet been released. 

Theresa May gave a statement outside Number 10 after chairing a COBRA committee. "The terrorists chose to strike at the heart of our Capital City, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech," she said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has tweeted his thanks for the "tremendous bravery" of the emergency services. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also released a short statement. He said: "Reports suggest the ongoing incident in Westminster this afternoon is extremely serious. Our thoughts are with the victims of this horrific attack, their families and friends. The police and security staff have taken swift action to ensure the safety of the public, MPs and staff, and we are grateful to them."

After the incident this afternoon, journalists shared footage of injured people in the street, and pictures of a car which crashed into the railings outside Big Ben. After the shots rang out, Parliament was placed under lockdown, with the main rooms including the Commons Chamber and the tearoom sealed off. The streets around Parliament were also cordoned off and Westminster Tube station was closed. 

Those caught up in the incident include visitors to Parliament, such as schoolchildren, who spent the afternoon trapped alongside politicians and political journalists. Hours after the incident, the security services began evacuating MPs and others trapped inside Parliament in small groups. 

The MP Richard Benyon tweeted: "We are locked in Chamber of House of Commons." Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner tweeted: "I'm inside Parliament and me and my staff are safe."

The MP Jo Stevens was one of the first to confirm reports that a police officer had been attacked. She tweeted: "We've just been told a police officer here has been stabbed & the assailant shot."

George Eaton, the New Statesman politics editor, was in the building. He has written about his experience here:

From the window of the parliamentary Press Gallery, I have just seen police shoot a man who charged at officers while carrying what appeared to be a knife. A large crowd was seen fleeing the man before he entered the parliamentary estate. After several officers evaded him he was swiftly shot by armed police. Ministers have been evacuated and journalists ordered to remain at their desks.   

According to The Telegraph, foreign minister Tobias Ellwood, a former soldier, tried to resucitate the police officer who later died. Meanwhile another MP, Mary Creagh, who was going into Westminster to vote, managed to persuade the Westminster tube staff to shut down the station and prevent tourists from wandering on to the scene of the attack. 

A helicopter, ambulances and paramedics soon crowded the scene. There were reports of many badly injured victims. However, one woman was pulled from the River Thames alive.

MPs trapped inside the building shared messages of sympathy for the victims on Westminster Bridge, and in defence of democracy. The Labour MP Jon Trickett has tweeted that "democracy will not be intimidated". MPs in the Chamber stood up to witness the removal of the mace, the symbol of Parliamentary democracy, which symbolises that Parliament is adjourned. 

Brendan Cox, the widower of the late, murdered MP Jo Cox, has tweeted: "Whoever has attacked our parliament for whatever motive will not succeed in dividing us. All of my thoughts with those injured."

Hillary Benn, the Labour MP, has released a video from inside Parliament conveying a message from MPs to the families of the victims.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron has also expressed his sympathy. 

While many MPs praised the security services, they also seemed stunned by the surreal scenes inside Parliament, where counter-terrorism police led evacuations. 

Those trapped inside Parliament included 40 children visiting on a school trip, and a group of boxers, according to the Press Association's Laura Harding. The teachers tried to distract the children by leading them in song and giving them lessons about Parliament. 

In Scotland, the debate over whether to have a second independence referendum initially continued, despite the news, amid bolstered security. After pressure from Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, the session was later suspended. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that her "thoughts are with everyone in and around Westminster". The Welsh Assembly also suspended proceedings. 

A spokesman for New Scotland Yard, the police headquarters, said: "There is an ongoing investigation led by the counter-terrorism command and we would ask anybody who has images or film of the incident to pass it onto police. We know there are a number of casualties, including police officers, but at this stage we cannot confirm numbers or the nature of these injuries."

Three students from a high school from Concarneau, Britanny, were among the people hurt on the bridge, according to French local newspaper Le Telegramme (translated by my colleague Pauline). They were walking when the car hit them, and are understood to be in a critical condition. 

The French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has also tweeted his solidarity with the UK and the victims, saying: "Solidarity with our British friends, terribly hit, our full support to the French high schoolers who are hurt, to their families and schoolmates."

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.