Glasgow & West Scotland

Nuns 'sorry' over Smyllum abuse claims

sketch of Smyllum nuns Ellen Flynn and Eileen Glancy Image copyright Julia Quenzler
Image caption Sisters Ellen Flynn and Eileen Glancy gave evidence to the inquiry

A nun in charge of a Catholic order has offered her "deepest and most sincere apologies" to anyone who may have been abused at Smyllum Park orphanage.

Sister Ellen Flynn said "horrifying" accounts of abuse at the Lanark care home were "totally against" everything the order stood for.

She was giving evidence at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry in Edinburgh.

The inquiry has already heard weeks of evidence about the institution, which was shut in 1981.

One former resident, who was a child at the orphanage in the 1960s, has told the inquiry there was a "culture of evil among religious orders" at that time.

Sister Flynn - who broke down in tears during her testimony - said that her heart was with the survivors, as she vowed the order would engage with them and the probe to "put right what wrongs are found".

The pledge came as she and another witness admitted a variety of historical failures had taken place at the home, including "weak" governance and record-keeping.

Analysis by Michael Buchanan, UK Affairs correspondent

The nuns' refusal to go beyond recognising "the possibility" that children were abused is likely to infuriate many former residents.

The nuns say they don't have any records of the abuse, and that former staff recall Smyllum as a happy, caring environment. Their inability to provide much clarity on how many children are buried in the unmarked grave will cause further upset.

For two decades, former residents have been trying to get the nuns to admit what happened at Smyllum. They've felt that every admission of failure has had to be dragged from the Daughters of Charity.

Some now cynically fear the Order are playing a new game - playing for time, waiting for the often frail and elderly former residents to die off, making the problem disappear with them.

Dozens of former residents have testified that they received beatings and were mistreated at the home, run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.

Sister Ellen, who is the current head of the order, said: "For those who are in distress, for those whom we have hurt in any way, our deepest and most sincere apologies.

"If we can do something about it, let us know."

Image caption Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark was closed in 1981

She and another nun, Sister Eileen Glancy - who also gave evidence - told the hearing that they wished to amend a previous apology because they now realised that there was "more than a possibility that some abuse had occurred" at Smyllum.

Asked about those who said they continued to have emotional difficulties as a consequence of their time in the care of the religious order, Sister Ellen said: "The core of our being is to be there for vulnerable people in distress.

"I think the core of our being has been wrenched by some of the testimonies.

"We accompany people who suffer with long-lasting effects of things that have happened to them.

"So we feel the impact and for any child that has been abused whilst in our care we would feel the very, very deep sense of regret."

'Something systemic'

She described the contradictions in evidence between the survivors and the various nuns who described Smyllum as a "happy place" as "completely bewildering".

The witness also spoke of the order's "ingrained" values, in particular of serving the poor.

She added: "There is a hugely long tradition around how to behave with dignity and respect around children.

"So I find it really difficult to think that there was something systemic going on.

"I can't speak for the actions of individuals and I'm quite prepared to say that there's a possibility that many of the punishments occurred."

The nuns also admitted that the order did not properly engage with allegations of abuse when they first emerged in the late 1990s.

Image copyright Nick Mailer
Image caption The inquiry is chaired by High Court judge Lady Smith

They said they now wanted to work with individuals or groups affected by their time at Smyllum.

"My heart is with those people and I can say that without any hesitation," said Sister Ellen.

"We want to respond in a way that is helpful."

She also told the inquiry that the allegations were "totally alien". "It's totally against everything that we stand for", she said.

"We've been torn apart by this. I'm not defending us by saying that. I'm finding it hard to understand it.

"Obviously I want to stand by these people who have come forward. These were our children.

"We will respond in whatever way we can to try to put right what wrongs are found."

The inquiry, before Lady Smith, continues.

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