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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Apology for 'shocking and harrowing' abuses at Derry care homes

Written by The Editorial Team

The Sisters of Nazareth who ran two children’s homes in Derry, have again admitted and apologised for physical and sexual abuses suffered by residents there.

Sister Brenda McCall, speaking on behalf of the order, was asked if it was accepted by the order that in some cases the standard of care was not acceptable.

She admitted much of the testimony already heard by the inquiry into historical abuses at care homes was “shocking and harrowing”.

Certain behaviour by some nuns was “just not right,” she said.

Asked was the order guilty of physical abuse, Sr Brenda said: “Unfortunately yes, I would accept that. Yes.”

She also admitted older boys and outside volunteer staff also committed physical abuse “in some instances”.

She agreed there was an awareness of peer abuse and sexual experimentation among boys at St Joseph’s home in Termonbacca, Derry.

Regarding the handling of claims of sex abuse by some children, Sr Brenda said some children may not have been believed if they made complaints, particularly of sex abuse.

Christine Smith QC and senior counsel to the inquiry, raised the Congregation’s apology to former residents for any physical or sexual abuses and asked Sr Brenda if she would like to include in that apology an expression of remorse for emotional suffering and neglect.

Sr Brenda replied: “Totally and absolutely”.

Asked about claims made by some former residents of force-feeding, Sr Brenda said children were “encouraged but not force-fed”.

She said the nuns did what any mother would do with food and encouraging children to eat.

There was no written policy on corporal punishment, she admitted, but added that all nuns would have been aware of legislation and government guidelines on the treatment of children.

“The sisters knew corporal punishment was not part of the ethos of the congregation,” she said.

She added there was no written policy on the keeping of records for children at either of the two Derry homes and accepted there were differences in practice even among sisters working in the same home.

She said storage of records could have suffered on the basis that so many had accumulated over the years.

She further accepted some children were abused by host families during summer or Christmas holidays. She said in retrospect, there was clearly insufficient vetting of host families.

Not all sisters were trained not even for teaching, she admitted. She talked of a “discerning process” by which nuns were allocated to various homes or posts.

She admitted some would have been like “a round peg in a square hole”. This should have been identified later and removed.

Sir Anthony Hart, inquiry chairman, asked if each residential home run by the Sisters of Nazareth was left “to sink or swim” by the Order’s mother home in Hammersmith, London.

Sr Brenda said she thought “it was remiss of the Order to leave so few nuns in charge of so many children” at Termonbacca and Nazareth House in Derry.

She told Sir Anthony she could not explain why the Sisters of Nazareth left the two homes to operate with so few resources in the face of such demands.