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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Why is it called Storm Doris? The psychological impact of naming a storm

“Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person.”

“Oh, piss off Doris,” cried the nation in unison this morning. No, it wasn't that everyone's local cantankerous old lady had thwacked our ankles with her stick. This is a different, more aggressive Doris. Less Werther’s, more extreme weathers. Less bridge club, more bridge collapse.

This is Storm Doris.

A storm that has brought snow, rain, and furious winds up to 94mph to parts of the UK. There are severe weather warnings of wind, snow and ice across the entire country.

But the real question here is: why is it called that? And what impact does the new Met Office policy of naming storms have on us?

Why do we name storms?

Storm Doris is the latest protagonist in the Met Office’s decision to name storms, a pilot scheme introduced in winter 2015/16 now in its second year.

The scheme was introduced to draw attention to severe weather conditions in Britain, and raise awareness of how to prepare for them.

How do we name storms?

The Name our Storms initiative invites the public to suggest names for storms. You can do this by tweeting the @metoffice using the #nameourstorms hashtag and your suggestion, through its Facebook page, or by emailing them.

These names are collated along with suggestions from Met Éireann and compiled into a list. These are whittled down into 21 names, according to which were most suggested – in alphabetical order and alternating between male and female names. This is done according to the US National Hurricane Naming convention, which excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z because there are thought to be too few common names beginning with these letters.

They have to be human names, which is why suggestions in this list revealed by Wired – including Apocalypse, Gnasher, Megatron, In A Teacup (or Ena Tee Cup) – were rejected. The Met Office received 10,000 submissions for the 2016/17 season. According to a spokesperson, a lot of people submit their own names.

Only storms that could have a “medium” or “high” wind impact in the UK and Ireland are named. If there are more than 21 storms in a year, then the naming system starts from Alpha and goes through the Greek alphabet.

The names for this year are: Angus (19-20 Nov ’16), Barbara (23-24 Dec 2016), Conor (25-26 Dec 2016), Doris (now), Ewan, Fleur, Gabriel, Holly, Ivor, Jacqui, Kamil, Louise, Malcolm, Natalie, Oisín, Penelope, Robert, Susan, Thomas, Valerie and Wilbert.

Why does this violent storm have the name of an elderly lady?

Doris is an incongruous name for this storm, so why was it chosen? A Met Office spokesperson says they were just at that stage in their list of names, and there’s no link between the nature of the storm and its name.

But do people send cosy names for violent weather conditions on purpose? “There’s all sorts in there,” a spokesperson tells me. “People don’t try and use cosy names as such.”

What psychological impact does naming storms have on us?

We know that giving names to objects and animals immediately gives us a human connection with them. That’s why we name things we feel close to: a pet owner names their cat, a sailor names their boat, a bore names their car. We even name our virtual assistants –from Microsoft’s Clippy to Amazon’s Alexa.

This gives us a connection beyond practicality with the thing we’ve named.

Remember the response of Walter Palmer, the guy who killed Cecil the Lion? “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it,” he said. “Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

So how does giving a storm a name change our attitude towards it?

Evidence suggests that we take it more seriously – or at least pay closer attention. A YouGov survey following the first seven named storms in the Met Office’s scheme shows that 55 per cent of the people polled took measures to prepare for wild weather after hearing that the oncoming storm had been named.

“There was an immediate acceptance of the storm names through all media,” said Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, the Irish metereological service. “The severe weather messages were more clearly communicated.”

But personalising a storm can backfire. A controversial US study in 2014 by PNAC (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) claimed that hurricanes with female names lead to higher death tolls – the more “feminine” the name, like Belle or Cindy, the higher the death toll. This is not because female names are attached to more severe storms; it is reportedly because people take fewer steps to prepare for storms with names they perceive to be unintimidating or weak.

“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” Sharon Shavitt, a co-author of the study, told the FT at the time. “This makes a female-named hurricane . . . seem gentler and less violent.”

Names have social connotations, and affect our subconscious. Naming a storm can raise awareness of it, but it can also affect our behaviour towards it.

What’s it like sharing a name with a deadly storm?

We should also spare a thought for the impact sharing a name with a notorious weather event can have on a person. Katrina Nicholson, a nurse who lives in Glasgow, says it was “horrible” when the 2005 hurricane – one of the fifth deadliest ever in the US – was given her name.

“It was horrible having something so destructive associated with my name. Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person,” she tells me over email. “I actually remember at the time meeting an American tourist on a boat trip in Skye and when he heard my name he immediately linked it to the storm – although he quickly felt guilty and then said it was a lovely name! I think to this day there will be many Americans who hate my name because of it.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.