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ICB History 101: The Irish Christian Brothers and the permanent stain of child sex abuse

Here is my crash course in the Irish Christian Brothers sex abuse and cover-up scandal and bankruptcy:

In order to understand the current Irish Christian Brothers debacle, we need only look north.

As I have repeated (and as my Church history professors seared into my cortex in countless seminary courses): The Past is Prologue to the Future.

In light of that, let’s take a short trip back in time:

In 1975, detectives Robert Hillier and Paul Pitcher of the Newfoundland Constabulary were investigating complaints from the Irish Christian Brothers orphanage at Mount Cashel.  Hillier and Pitcher were not naive detectives, but even they could not imagine the extent of the beatings and sexual abuse, the Brothers collusion, and the blatant obstruction of justice and corruption surrounding the child sexual abuse by the Irish Christian Brothers who worked at Mount Cashel.  It would take an additional two decades for the moral bankruptcy to explode. You can read the results of their work here, in the 1991 Hughes Report, Part I and Part II.

But the abuse and cover-up didn’t stop there. It spread south, as the Irish Christian Brothers shuffled criminal child predators across international borders and state lines to avoid prosecution, find new innocent child victims, and ensure that justice would never be served.

Here is a great reading/viewing list (after you’re done with the Hughes Report) that will give you a good historical narrative of the pattern, behavior and human cost of the ICB sex abuse crisis:

Unholy Orders: Tragedy at Mount Cashel by Michael Harris

The Boys of St. Vincent - “two-part docudrama based on real events that took place at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s, Newfoundland, one of a number of child sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church.” – Wikipedia

Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse Meets the Civil Law, by Thomas Doyle and Steven Rubino, Fordham Urban Law Journal

The Christian Brothers Educational Record, a yearly diary and chronicle of the activities of the Christian Brothers Schools in the US and Canada

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, an excellent novel about life in Newfoundland

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THE CELTIC DIABLO: Reverend Brendan Smyth O.Prae

John Gerard Smyth joined the Norbertine Fathers in Northern Ireland in 1945 where he was given the religious name of Brendan to symbolize his total conversion to Christ.  The hundreds of children Brendan raped and sodomized would likely have a different name for him: The Celtic Diablo.

The Celtic Diablo sexually abused children in county Cavan, Belfast, Dublin, Scotland, Wales, Providence Rhode Island, Langdon North Dakota and anywhere he heard confessions - his primary access point to abuse children.

But there was a whistleblower. Father Bruno Mulvihill O.Prae.–beginning when he was a novice at Kilnacrott Abbey–told his Norbertine superiors in 1964 that Brendan Smyth was abusing altar boys.  Norbertine officials disregarded that warning and instead sent Brendan to Providence, RI, where he went on to hear more confessions and abuse more children.

Solicitation in the confessional (crimens sollicitationis) is one of the most ancient, consistent and unabated crimes particular to Roman Catholicism.  But little has changed: Even with all the documented history of children being abused in the confessional, last week Benedict XVI reaffirmed the need for Catholics to go to private confession, where the priest represents Christ and has the divine power to forgive sins. No where else but the confessional can a child perpetrator find a forum where the power differential is so great and the policy of secrecy pervades.

Like many priest perpetrators, Fr. Brendan Smyth O.Prae. was intentionally shuffled across dioceses, countries and continents. But Father Bruno Mulvihill O.Prae. remained on his tail. He spent his career reporting Smyth’s crimes to his own priors in Ireland, abbots in California, bishops in Ireland, the Papal Nuncio to Ireland and finally to Rome. In no other case has a priest dedicated himself to protecting children from a single serial predator.

While his actions did not get results, his efforts may not have been in vain.

Because of Mulvihill and decades of litigation in Ireland and the United States, we now know that Rome and the Congregation for Religious knew Smyth was a child molester as early as 1964.  Cardinal Sean Brady J.C.D. (Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland) conducted a canonical investigation and is keeping evidence under the “pontifical secret” while the public and Smyth’s victims await his production of the documents.

But we know this much so far: Not once but twice Brendan Smyth had his faculties to hear confessions rescinded because he was molesting kids.  What did the Abbots, Bishops and Papal Nuncio do?  They transferred him to parishes, dioceses and countries where no one knew about his past and no one could protect their children.

Reverend Brendan Smyth O.Prae. was finally arrested in 1991 and died in prison in 1997. But his superiors are still covering up for him and the men who protected him.

Who is the real Diablo?

Brendan Smyth was a monster, but the men who covered up for him are just as guilty. We know who they are because Father Bruno Mulvihill kept extensive documentation of every person he reported to about Smyth’s crimes. Although many of these men are deceased, the victims are still alive and still suffering. The more we know about what these men covered-up, the more we can help victims by holding responsible parties accountable.

The circle of eleven to remember:

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Castration vs. Isolation

Recently, German and Moldovan lawmakers have openly discussed using chemical castration as a viable treatment option for sex offenders.  Because the offender will no longer be able to act on his desires (and in many cases will lose sexual desire altogether), castration is offered as one option to prevent recidivism, or repeat offenses.

This topic deserves further discussion.

Roman Catholic Church has centuries of experience and could aid the discussion. Unlike any other institution, the church has trained psychiatrists and psychologists who specialize in child predators; has operated predator treatment facilities; and has sponsored internal studies where child predators were carefully evaluated, recidivism was discussed and chemical castration was practiced.

The Roman Catholic Church has grappled for years with the question of what to do with bishops, priests, religious and employees after they have sexually abused minors.  Thousands of pages of internal church documents outline topics like: “Post Treatment Options”, “What to do with the unassignable” and, “Where to place those given a sentence by a church court of a life of prayer and penance”.

Whatever the pithy phrase employed, the church has intensely studied the problem of predator clerics for nearly a century.

In the early 20th century, Reverend Thomas Verner Moore M.D. studied the causes behind the high rates of insanity amongst the clergy, including the driving forces of human nature.  Another early pioneer in treating child molesting clergy was Dr. Leo Bartemeirer M.D. at the Seton Institute.

On the west coast, the Servants of the Paraclete and Reverend Gerald Fitzgerald S.P., treated molesting priests with depo-provera as a form of chemical castration.  Fitzgerald surmised that if you turned off a predator’s sex drive, he would not be sexually attracted to children.  Depo-provera use continued into the 1990s where Father Stephen Rossetti Ph.D. makes mention of depo-provera at the Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, MD.

None of these institutions have had great success.

Experience has taught me that chemical castration of clerical sex offenders of minors is only effective for a small few.  For the clerics I have known or interviewed, the causes and composition of their sexual attraction to children are very complex.  According to Father Cannice Connors O.F.M. who ran the Southdown treatment facility in Canada and the Saint Luke Institute for three decades, the causes and composition of clerical sex offenders are more than bio-chemical.  It surely is not a “software” issue, only requiring a “reboot” of the clerics hard drive.  Complex clerical criminals such as Gilbert Gauthe, Oliver Francis O’Grady or Donald J. McGuire S.J. are cunning and calculating. In fact, even Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, S.P. calls them “Vipers.”

Ockham’s Razor – Isolate Sex Offenders from Target Population

William of Ockham’s (also known as Occam’s) Razor, or principle of economy, states that the simplest answer to a highly complex question is often the best answer.  Using that methodology, the answer for keeping children safe is simple: isolate sex offenders from their target population. Chemical castration is complex, difficult to maintain, and must be carefully monitored.  Its success rate is poor.

The simplest answer? Complete isolation where there is no possibility of predators have any access to their target population. The children of today and tomorrow are worth it.

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60 Minutes: The Archbishop of Dublin challenges the Church

This report by the American television news magazine 60 Minutes is a must-see for anyone interested in how the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is fostering, enabling and mismanaging the child sexual abuse and cover-up crisis, and how one bishop in Ireland is attempting to buck the system.

Watch the segment and read more here.

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