In an extraordinary move a fortnight ago, constables in Scotland arrested eleven women, assumed to be the nuns accused of abusing children in their care in the Smyllum orphanage, Lanarkshire, Scotland. This news brings fresh hope to the thousands children who grew up in orphanages worldwide, who still suffer from the abuse they bore and witnessed so many decades ago.
This story is only the latest in an epidemic of claims of horrific abuse in orphanages. Tales of slaps, punches and extreme spanking. Bones intentionally snapped. Children tied up outside and left to freeze to death. Children thrown from windows. Tossed from boats. Dragged through creeks. Babies smothered in their cots, buried under floor boards, drowned in wells. Starvation. Sexual abuse. Ritual abuse. Genital mutilation. Rape. Cold-blooded murder.
The surviving victims may be the devout parishioner bowed in reverence at Mass next to us. The alcoholic sleeping rough on the street. The successful stock broker. They may be our mothers, fathers, grandparents. Orphanage inmates rarely tell their own spouses of their time in the orphanage, much less the horrors they suffered and saw. But they haunt them for a lifetime.
Stories of child abuse, in any setting, are horrifying. Abuse occurs worldwide, in all institutions and in all religions. But in a religious orphanage and perpetrated in the name of God, they take on a confusing twist beyond the pain and horror. Stories of abuse in Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the United States are well known and publicized but the abuse was not limited to the English speaking world.
In May 2017, a Japanese nun was arrested for allegedly assisting or covering up the sexual abuse of an orphan in an Argentinian orphanage that specialized in the care of deaf children.
In May of this year, the nation of Colombia arrested two nuns for well-known abuses ranging from burning children to punishments of pushing their heads in toilets.
Even the Missionaries of Charity, established by Mother Teresa, has been touched by scandal when one of their nuns was arrested in July for child trafficking by selling babies to childless couples.
But are the nuns in question the original perpetrators or are they themselves merely wounded cogs in a system that abuses them too? Are they silent, angry, wounded victims themselves, venting their pain on the children in their charge?
‘Sister Charlotte’, an American nun and nurse recorded a heart-breaking testimony of horrific and drunken physical and sexual abuse of nuns at the hands of their superior clergy. If the rape of a nun resulted in pregnancy, she might be kicked unmercifully until she miscarried. If the pregnancy was allowed to continue to term, children in an American orphanage witnessed a nun’s infant smothered with a pillow by another nun. Sister Charlotte also testified to seeing the nuns’ infants being smothered to death.
Sister Charlotte is not the only nun who spoke out against the abuse of nuns. Two months ago, an Italian nun courageously denied her vows of secrecy and obedience to expose the priest who raped her. The power of the #metoo movement continues to move, even extending to the Vatican.
Perhaps the most shocking moment of all came on August 26th of this year when Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a Vatican insider, along with eight other cardinals called for Pope Francis to step down, according to Reuters, ‘accusing him of covering up sexual misconduct by an American cardinal’.
Whether Pope Francis steps down or not, I fervently hope he or the next Pope will throw open their files and shine the piercing light of truth on all the secrets so all the victims of abuse in orphanages and convents alike will find the justice and healing they so badly need.