"Violence was their creed"
That's how one victim of clerical abuse described his experience of physical and sexual violence at the hands of Catholic religious brothers in Ireland. Mr Justice Ryan's five-volume report contains an horrific litany of abuse carried out against vulnerable children in 250 schools over a period of six decades. The report describes ritualised beatings, torture, sexual humiliation, and rape perpetrated by priests, brothers and nuns in church-run institutions. Mr Justice Ryan says rape was "endemic", and church authorities covered-up abuses. The Ryan Commission's report is a catalogue of horrific violation; it is an account of one of the darkest episodes in the history of the Irish state.
We committed almost all of today's Talk Back to covering the Ryan revelations. Some of out callers told their personal stories, some simply expressed their shock, their deep confusion about how supposedly spiritual people could commit such appalling crimes against children. More than one compared the torture revelations to what we've heard about the mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanemo Bay. Children were scolded, burned, waterboarded, flogged, sexually abused and violently raped by men and women who said they had religious vocations.
Our programme, which is available on the BBC iPlayer, began with Mike Philpott's deeply personal reflection on this story. The Ryan Commission accounts triggered memories for Mike he would sooner forget. Mike has permitted me to reprint his reflection below the line.
Reading the Ryan Report, by Mike Philpott
The first four years of my grammar school education were spent among barbarians.
Despite the advice of my parents to attend a state school, I chose a Catholic grammar - firstly because it was alleged to be the best in the area and secondly because I knew several people who attended it and wouldn't have to make new friends. To this day, it's the worst decision I have taken.
My abiding memory of the place is unrelenting violence. Teachers carried canes and straps as a matter of course. Those who were not men of the cloth were bad enough. But the priests were unrivalled in their appetite for savagery. I recall one Latin teacher who played a sadistic game every day in class. He used to ask questions about Latin vocabulary, and if you got one wrong you were told to stand in one corner of the room. If you were still in that corner by the end of the lesson, you received four strokes of the cane. Each time you got one right, you moved to another corner, which subtracted one stroke from your final total. So to get back to your seat, you had to answer four questions correctly.
Even though this was nearly 40 years ago, I still wonder from time to time how the mind of a teacher could contrive such a perverse entertainment from the business of learning.
Many years later, while covering the funeral of a victim of the Troubles as a reporter, I encountered this savage again. What was most staggering about the meeting was that he spoke as if nothing had happened. The fact is, he saw it as normal. And he was by no means alone. Another teacher caned the entire class because one person had damaged a door and everyone else refused to turn him over to summary justice.
This violence percolated downwards to those on the receiving end. Some regained their self respect by turning to bullying, doling out yet more punishment to the weaker members of the class.
The people I felt sorriest for were the boarders, who were trapped in this atmosphere of brutality and sexual repression 24 hours a day, and the kids whose entire existence was dominated by the Catholic Church - everything from the youth clubs they attended to the forced trips to the west of Ireland, where their summer holidays were spent speaking Irish and dominated even more heavily by Catholicism.
Luckily, I escaped over the fence to a state school, where teachers were human and pupils gasped in disbelief at what happened to their Catholic counterparts.
Those formative years have left me with an abiding hatred not just of the institutions of the Catholic Church, but of all organised religion. I have a particular well of rage reserved for religious schools of whatever denomination, whose only purpose is indoctrination and control. Why is there any need for any religion to have a role in education in any state?
But I wonder what it's like to be a Catholic priest, after years of innuendo and being the butt of jokes. Pity and scorn are the only two emotions they seem to conjure up these days. As for those higher up the food chain, with their scarlet robes and airs of importance, the only emotion they evoke is anger. Some of them knew about the abuse and helped to hide it, in common with the other authorities at the time.
Together with the MPs' expenses scandal, the Ryan report on abuse proves that decades of moral guidance were hollow and that the concept of justice doesn't exist.