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Children in Nuns’ Care Forced to Wear Soiled Sheets, Eat Vomit

Children in Nuns’ Care Forced to Wear Soiled Sheets, Eat Vomit

While nuns are notorious for being tough, there is a line, and those at the Sisters of Nazareth definitely crossed it at care homes in Derry, Northern Ireland. As part of an ongoing investigation of possible abuses in child care services during the 20th century projected to last into the summer of next year, a public inquiry uncovered shocking reports of child abuse and horrific experiences from more than 400 people who had spent time at one of two homes run by the nuns. What they described was nothing short of appalling, and it speaks to a troubling need to audit long-term care facilities for children more closely.

When children are placed into care because they’re orphaned or removed from bad home situations and there are no alternative placements for them, they may end up in care homes, sometimes for extended periods of time. The same is true in both the United States and the UK, where various groups oversee care homes. They’re charged with the safety and welfare of their inmates, as well as making sure they access educations and other social benefits.

What happened at Nazareth House and St. Joseph’s Home, however, was more like a nightmare. One witness described his experiences as a “hellhole,” and narrated a story of physical abuse from nuns, sexual assault and forced labor in the setting of the home. He was just one of many witnesses who came forward to discuss what they’d endured.

Among the highlights, or lowlights, more aptly, of their testimony:

  • Children who wet the bed were beaten and forced to wear the soiled sheets as a form of humiliation.
  • Those who were sick were compelled to eat their own vomit and bathe in disinfectant.
  • Children were known by numbers instead of names.
  • Sticks, straps, and kettle flexes were used to beat children, sometimes extremely viciously.
  • Children were sent out as farm laborers or forced to work in the home instead of being provided with access to schools.
  • Children who “misbehaved” were locked in closets and intimidated with threats of being sent to adult psychiatric institutions.
  • The nuns tolerated bullying and sexual assault among the children, and some witnesses also reported sexual assaults by priests and at least one nun as well.

Troublingly, a report of sexual assault in the mid-1990s was dismissed, leading to a second report the very next year against the same individual. This was an opportunity for the outside community to intervene at the home that wasn’t followed up.

While the inquiry is focused on the treatment of children in care in the 1920s through mid-1990s, with a special look at children placed under the care of religious orders, the findings are important for modern care settings as well, where documented abuse is an ongoing issue. These findings could have significant legal and social implications in Northern Ireland, where people are already outraged by the emerging testimony on the subject. Witness complaints may be turned into criminal prosecutions, and there could be grounds for civil relief as well for those who have waited a long time for justice.

It also raises important questions about what is going on under the roofs of care facilities today. Are children safe, warm and well-fed? Are they going to school and being provided with regular medical care? Are they free of harassment, bullying and sexual assault? When we take children into care, are we providing them with everything we’ve promised? We owe it not just to them, but to the generations of children who have gone before.

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Photo credit: anthony kelly.

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292 comments

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4:53AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

That's disgusting. No child should have to be subjected to such unimaginable cruelty.

3:09PM PST on Feb 22, 2014

Horrible!!

7:12PM PST on Feb 17, 2014

Not a Christian here but there is a wise thing said in their book: "You shall know a thing by its fruits" ... what fruits come from these people? Suffering, torture and misery, innocent children's spirits crushed, twisted and destroyed. By their fruits, I think we know what they are.

3:19PM PST on Feb 15, 2014

A friend of mine was dragged up in a nunnery... I was brought up in childrens homes.. Both the same age, different circumstances.... I'm still here, she is not... Yes Dirty linen does indeed need to be aired. Twisted folk living in a different world, destroying the souls of children

10:49AM PST on Feb 15, 2014

The guilty nuns need to be punished just like anyone else who commit such crimes. Finger print, book them, and then slam the prison door!

3:28AM PST on Feb 8, 2014

Stop world wide abuse of our children of every religion-God knows what's going on-the bible says that.....are evil doers stupid or what?
We reap what we sow....no one is exempt from that....this is universal law.

3:20AM PST on Feb 7, 2014

i am really shocked to read this article. living in india and saw all these things
happening here i cant imagine these things happening in developed countries
i feel for these kids pathetic conditions. please stop all these things

4:11PM PST on Feb 6, 2014

This is a worldwide issue. Moreover than that, the responsibility of abuses which are inflicted upon these children -and go unnoticed for years (if not longer), is also the direct result of society’s apathy towards abandoned children who are thrown into State Custody and forgotten.

Personally, any child forced to live in a religious order (orphanage) is already undergoing excessive brainwashing via another’s dogma. The child abuse was evident once the innocent were stripped of the most fundamental right: Freedom of religion.

These vile acts against children have been going on for years- EVERYWHERE. The fact that these innocent children were treated so badly by nuns and priests is far from shocking. Society would be amazed what they find if they looked behind the closed doors of orphanages and foster care families.

8:11AM PST on Feb 6, 2014

Awful, I'm horrified!

6:42AM PST on Feb 6, 2014

There is no smoke without fire but I think this is probably an extreme example which still should be highlghted and the guilty nuns punished accordingly.

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