Why were nuns assumed to be good caretakers for children?

Just because they were female? Maybe that was a bad assumption, because the stories coming out of the Catholic orphanage system are horrific. One example:

Sally had been caught running and giggling in the dormitory. The nun, Sister Jane of the Rosary, was known for her constant companion: a thick razor strap that the girls called “the green pill,” bitter medicine for any child who came near it.

Sister Jane of the Rosary took Sally to the little bedroom off the sewing room and made her lie facedown, dress yanked up, panties pulled down. Then the nun sent in Eva, a seamstress, who along with another lay employee, Irene, was one of the only two people that Sally felt safe with.

Eva came into the little room, looked at Sally — face down, dress up, defenseless — and stood frozen for a few long moments. The strap lay beside her on the bed. Then she left. Irene came in next, but she couldn’t do anything, either. Even Sister Jane of the Rosary, usually so quick to punish, came in but did nothing.

At last Sally heard Sister James Mary announce that she had “no problem” performing the task. Entering the room, she brought the strap down hard on Sally, from the back of her neck all the way down to her ankles. Once, twice. Ten times. Too many times to count.

Sally recoiled with each downstroke, but she tried her best to hold back the tears. The silence only enraged Sister James Mary, who kept hitting her. On and on, the blows kept coming. “You will cry!” the nun insisted.

Eventually Sally did. She began to weep.

Sally couldn’t twist around far enough to see the damage. But when Irene looked, she gasped.

“How many times do we have to tell you?” Sister Jane of the Rosary demanded from above. “If you cry, you cry alone. If you smile, the whole world smiles with you.”

Irene brought Sally across the long hallway, down the marble stairs, past the foyer, and into the office of the mother superior herself. Irene showed her Sally’s wounds. It wasn’t right to do that to a little girl.

Mother Superior replied that Sally was going to end up in reform school anyway.

The next time Sally was sent to Irene and Eva for a beating, Irene said she would deal with the child herself.

Irene hit her, but only on her bottom. Sally was so overwhelmed with gratitude that the next day, she told Irene that she loved her.

Wow — that’s a clever use of psychology. You’ve got two torturers, and the victim learns to love the one who tortures her a little less. But otherwise, you have to wonder about caregivers who are known for the instruments of abuse they carry with them everywhere — and this is one of the milder stories. Don’t read the whole thing unless you want nightmares.

As has been the case in recent years, there have been attempts to bring legal redress to the Catholic church. I was interested to see the defense strategies described. It’s all about denial.

One of the rewards for being good at the orphanage was an activity that the sisters had called “serving God.” God, at least for those purposes, turned out to be Father Devoy, the resident chaplain.

Devoy had his own rooms and dining table, at which he was often joined by seminarians. Sally told Sartore that when she was quite little, she had done her very best to be good for a whole week, and for once it had worked. At the end of the week, Sally got to go into God’s rooms. She set his table and took in his food and placed it on the table before him.

She managed to put God’s plate down without spilling anything, but when she turned to walk away, Father Devoy put his hand under her skirt. He yanked down her panties, touched her backside, and told her that she had cute buns. The next time he tried it, the headstrong girl spilled the soup in his lap.

Sartore sounded outraged at Sally’s inference. “Will you agree with me that a grown man, an elderly man, a priest, could pinch the behind of a little girl without it constituting, quote, sexual abuse?”

Sally declined his invitation to undermine herself. “I can’t answer it,” she said. “Because I thought if you swore, okay, it is like a form of sexual harassment…”

Sartore wouldn’t let go. “What was there if anything about the way Father Devoy grabbed your behind that constituted sexual abuse?”

“Because he used to say how cute they were,” Sally explained. “You have cute little buns,” she recalled him saying.

“And so for a 60- or 70-year-old man to pinch a little girl’s bottom and say you have cute buns, you now consider that sexual abuse?” Sartore asked.

“I don’t know as I say sexual abuse,” Sally said. “I just don’t see it was right, whether it was an old man, young man, to do that to a child.”

If an old man pulls down a little girl’s panties and fondles her, YES THAT IS SEXUAL ABUSE. Why is this even a question?

The boys were also abused. Here’s a tactic that would make me hate lawyers.

Greene told the attorneys that a counselor assaulted him in his bed in the boys dorm at St. Joseph’s probably 10 or 20 times. Over what period of time? he was asked. Greene found it hard to say.

“Did this happen once a week to you?” they asked.

“To me,” said Greene, “I’d say it was more than once a week.”

“Was it twice a week?”

“I’m not sure.”

“But you think it was more than once a week?”

“Yeah,” said Greene.

“At least once a week he’d come in to you and want this done?”

“Yeah,” said Greene. The defense paused, lingered over another detail, and then returned to the counting.

“So you think he came in once a week and tried something with you. Might have happened 10 or 20 times to you; is that accurate? Is that your best recollection today?”

“Yeah, he came in at least once a week, probably more,” said Greene.

“So if he did it 10 or 20 times, this would have lasted 10 or 20 weeks, is that right?”

“It lasted for a year or two,” said Greene.

“Then why only 10 or 20 times if he came in every week?” defense asked.

“Because — it might have been more.”

“Well I’m just trying to—”

Greene became exasperated.

“I’m not sure how many times it was,” he said. “I know that it went on for a few years. As far as a count goes, I’m not sure. I have no idea. I mean, all I remember is he would abuse us, he’d abuse somebody every night, every single night that he worked.” Greene added, “And as far as how often, I don’t know. But it went on for years.”

“Do you think,” defense replied, “it was for you personally a weekly event?”

The defense attorneys asked plaintiffs to estimate the frequency of their rape or molestation by day, by week, by year, and then overall. Then they would get the plaintiff to compare the estimates and to count — so if it was x times a week, that would be y times in total, right? Inevitably the figures didn’t quite add up.

I can appreciate that a defense lawyer must give a strong, vigorous defense, but this is outright lying — on the one hand, they insist that the accusers can’t possibly have accurate recollections of their maltreatment decades after the fact and imply that everything was a confabulation, but on the other hand, they’ll demand that a young man who was raped decades before must have a precise tally of every single instance.

How about ONCE. He was raped once. Isn’t that enough to condemn the system? Then he was raped again and again. Do we care whether the number was 10 or 20, isn’t 1 enough?

Go ahead, read the whole thing if you want to start your day with a good head of rage. It’s just appalling to me that anyone ever figured that celibate old men and childless nuns were automatically qualified to take care of children. These are people who consciously rejected the roles of father, mother, (although, weirdly, they insist on the titles) and parent, and are the least suited to have responsibility for the young, lacking the temperament or experience, and yet, there they are, handed babies.

It’s unsurprising that they failed so horribly.


  1. raven says

    It’s surprising none of these children were killed.
    Oh wait, many of them did, in fact, end up dead.

    Order of nuns that dumped up to 800 babies into a septic tank must be …
    https://www.irishmirror.ie › News › Irish News › Tuam babies scandal
    Mar 7, 2017 – Order of nuns that dumped up to 800 babies into a septic tank must be … .

  2. raven says

    I’ve got my own horror stories about the Catholic church from my own life.
    And I wasn’t even Catholic although half my family was.
    .1. My friend’s father was one of 12 kids (birth control, how does that work now) who ended up in an orphanage because the family couldn’t feed 12 kids.
    He caught TB.
    At that time there was no treatment and many died, although he survived it.
    He also grew up stunted from malnutrition.
    He isn’t very tall but all his kids tower over him.
    .2. The homeless gay kid sexually abused by a priest who ended up in prison for child sexual abuse.
    He committed suicide as a teenager.

  3. thirdmill301 says

    The beating Sally received would have been an atrocity even if she had actually been misbehaving, but for running and giggling in the dormitory — in other words, being a child who does what children do — makes it far, far worse. The message she was being given is that life is supposed to be joyless, and if you’re happy you need to be punished for it. And that we need to spend our entire lives doing penance for being human.

    Which as best as I can tell is Catholic theology summed up in a nutshell.

  4. indianajones says

    Ok, so the RCC aare evil swine. What I wonder about are the lawyers, doin’ it for a buck. So, everyone deserves a good defence and rules of law and so on, even the very worst cos otherwise, you know, bad stuff for the rest of us as society. Like that I don’t wanna execute Jeffrey Dahmer even though he richly deserves it cos that makes me a killer even if only by proxy. But I might wanna, even illogically and victim traumatisingly, minimise the RCC’s crimes for a buck with an also and other very good reason. Just as this lawyer is attempting to do.

    So what could that reason possibly be? Particularly when I am defending such obviously odious and evil swine like this? Well, I might do it by thinking to myself that by challenging the law, I can get it to change by legislation or precedent so that if I use the most outrageously illogical, but currently legal, defence then the law itself, and those who decide what it shall be, change. For the better such that this shit is less likely to happen again. .And that that is a net good for society. Or so I might whisper to myself so I can sleep at night.

    And that, for mine, is where it all falls apart for this lawyer. This person as part of their profession goes home at night and has to have some variant on the following conversation:
    ‘Hi Honey I’m home!’
    ‘Oh, did you have a good day at the office?’
    ‘Yep! Made a boat load of money re=traumatising a victim of torture and abuse!’
    ‘Awesome! Can you justify that to yourself in order to be able to sleep tonight because it is now less likely to happen again?’
    ‘Well, that’s the thing. Decades of evidence says otherwise gosh darn it. But oh well, there is a boat load of money though, what’s for dinner?’

    This lawyer does not have to do this. This person is a volunteer. At least one person somewhere as per the document in the OP has done this. And so, while I agree that absolutely anyone is entitled to seek out the best (meaning what apparently is the most effective) possible legal defence for whatever it is they are being charged with, I find it amazing and horrifying that they can find it to this degree. That this is the most effective tactic, apparently, is abhorrent by the way too

    The RCC is evil and that makes it easier to understand why they do this, why they allow this tactic and/or similar to be used. I actually find it more difficult to understand the person who volunteers to be their expert legal proxy using their years of education, dedication and legal expertise voluntarily to do it.

  5. Larry says

    So has Bill Donovan blamed the victims of these tragic events yet? Gotta be the kids, right, Billy?

  6. Akira MacKenzie says

    The message she was being given is that life is supposed to be joyless, and if you’re happy you need to be punished for it. And that we need to spend our entire lives doing penance for being human.

    That’s traditional Christianity in a nutshell. The liberal Christian whitewashers might claim otherwise with their Gawd-is-sunshine-lollipops-and-rainbows-everything shtick, but for the bulk of its history, the faith was notably anti-fun. You were supposed to be sorry for existing and being brought into this universe through icky, icky sex. You deserved to be destroyed and the only thing that will keep you from being tortured forever in Hell is groveling before their deity. Only after you die, can you enjoy the bliss of heaven where you’ll get to sing the praises of Yahweh forever! (Oh. Joy.) If you’re having fun, you must be up to no good (e.g. the aforementioned icky, icky sex).

  7. zetopan says

    After Christianity had invented a fake disease that only they could cure (the original sin scam) all limits were off as to just how depraved they allowed themselves to “morally” descend. It’s good for the “soul” (another fiction) is their most common excuse. To remove their power over the masses we must TAX the churches! You can still hear religious fanatics proclaiming that the pope is the moral leader of the world. The largest newspaper in the state where I live still issues that vapid proclamation from time to time. The current pope claims that he wants the church to be poor but he has not given away the vast wealth that the church as accumulated (often stolen from people the church “convicted”, and remember when the church sold “indulgences”). That church is nothing but a power and money scam on the unknowing and credulous masses. There are protestant churches that are just as bad.

  8. says


    Don’t forget prosecutors are also lawyers. The same can be said about them. Prosecutors who resist DNA testing. Who keep proven innocent people in jail for two years after the DNA tests awaiting a trial to declare them innocent, when they could just drop the charges or at least release them on bail.

  9. komarov says

    The defense attorneys asked plaintiffs to estimate the frequency of their rape or molestation by day, by week, by year, and then overall. Then they would get the plaintiff to compare the estimates and to count — so if it was x times a week, that would be y times in total, right? Inevitably the figures didn’t quite add up.

    If you have nothing left to defend the indefensible the details suddenly become very important. Was it death death by a thousand cuts or just a few hundred? Just as long as everybody’s distracted from the “death” bit.

    Re: LykeX (#10):

    They almost do. Not a child, granted, but still

    That’s the son of god. You know, the only one that actually counts. [/sarcasm]

  10. davidc1 says

    With the nuns i think sexual frustration is at the heart of the matter .They must get some sort of thrill out of beating and abusing children .
    With the male members of the rcc ,i think it is just one of the perks .
    But you could say the same of all religions .

  11. JustaTech says

    That article is horrifying.
    And that’s one orphanage, in one city in one state.
    What about all the other orphanages? What about the Indian schools? The boarding schools? The “reform” schools?

    How many bodies are there, hidden in shallow graves, unmarked, unremembered, unnamed?

    There will be a reckoning. As there are people of courage and conviction, there will be a reckoning.

  12. jrkrideau says

    Conceding the absolute horrors in the Catholic Church, I have to remember the Catholic nuns who taught me. They would have died to the last woman defending their students.

  13. Mark Dowd says

    Conceding the absolute horrors in the Catholic Church, I have to remember the Catholic nuns who taught me. They would have died to the last woman defending their students.

    “Some people are decent” is hardly breaking news. It also totally missed the fucking point! Keep in mind that Sally in the article recounts the exact same thing, that there were some caretakers who truly did take care of her. It’s just that the woman in charge was evil.

    The scandal is not that there are bad people in the church. That’s going to happen in every large organization. The scandal is that the bad people are systematically protected as official policy.

    Some asshole posts racist bullshit in Google’s internal memos, and he got fired for contributing to a toxic workplace (don’t ask for his name, I don’t remember and don’t give a shit). Some priests and nuns abuse children, and it’s covered up and the Church uses every bit of its power to protect them from justice. That’s the scandal. Not the abuse, but the protection of the abusers.

  14. Nentuaby says

    Some asshole posts racist bullshit in Google’s internal memos, and he got fired for contributing to a toxic workplace (don’t ask for his name, I don’t remember and don’t give a shit).

    Please don’t cite this as an example of good governance. While said asshole was fired for causing trouble, a personal friend of mine was also fired in the exact same incident for calling his stuff out as sexist claptrap and becoming a focus of internal harassment. To Google, the offense was contributing to negative publicity, not creating a hostile workplace; being the victim rather than the perpetrator of the latter was no defense.

  15. Marissa van Eck says

    Former Catholic here. Also massive pyrophobe. I’d happily light these people on fire myself and listen to them screaming, and I’m the kind of girl who carries bugs outside rather than stomping them. This entire institution needs to be cleansed from the face of the earth.

  16. René says

    This was a hard read. Actually, it should’ve come with a trigger warning. The trigger for me was

    There were so few boys in the dorm in those days that Greene pulled a bunch of lockers into an L-shape to make himself his own bedroom. He even went toe-to-toe with Sister Gertrude when she got in his face one too many times. “Hit me once, I’ll knock your fucking head off,” he told her.

    Having ‘survived’ my stepmother in this spirit, the catholics at (boarding) school wouldn’t have dared to even point a finger in my direction.

    Paint me antitheist.

  17. ridana says

    What in the name of all that is unholy is going on with that picture of the nuns? Talk about nightmare fuel! They look like aliens, or demons peeking through their human masks. Did someone draw lines on the photo to make them look as monstrous on the outside as they were inside or something? That can’t just be an artifact of shadows or the photography of the era. O.O

  18. says

    North America, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America – every continent and country where the catholic cult has held any sway and numbers, rampant abuse has been the norm. It’s long past time to take away its status as a religion and treat it as an international mafia gang and go full RICO – mass arrests, asset forfeiture, invasions and seizure of the gang’s headquarters in Rome.

    But they’ll never go full RICO. Because religion.

  19. says

    I just have one small anecdote. It was in the 80s that I became aware of talk of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. I recall reading articles in which Latin American Catholics protested greatly, saying that it was a problem confined to that decadent Yankee culture to the north. Not long after, a fellow student in a university Spanish class complained bitterly about the abuse inflicted on students by priests at the secondary school he attended in Argentina. Another friend, who volunteered at at cancer hospital in Houston, also told me about being hit upon sexually by a Spanish priest who worked with patients there. These are just two examples, but the seem to fit a pattern that other people have described. I don’t care if priests are gay, but I don’t see how they can reconcile their behavior with their (supposedly) Christian ideals.

  20. albz says

    @21 Marissa

    I’d happily light these people on fire myself and listen to them screaming,

    Are you the same one that in the McCain’s thread wanted to resurrect him so that you can see him suffer in very nasty ways?
    You love too much the idea of having other people tortured. Maybe this explains it:

    Former Catholic here

    you most probably still are, in your hearth. The thing with burning people you hate is a dead giveaway…

  21. John Morales says


    albz, and you are someone (like me, obviously) who just comments about someone’s comment without even any attempt towards a reference to the topic at hand. The OP.

    Your dig at Marissa is duly noted, irrelevant, speculative and boorish as it may be.

    FWIW, long story, but my three sisters (each sequentially two years younger than I) spent their formative years in a Catholic orphanage. With nuns. They have nothing much good to say about it, and, interestingly, none are religious.

    (I myself spent time with Jesuits, but it was in another country and another ethnic culture. Nonetheless, Catholicism is Catholicism, wherever it festers)

  22. albz says

    @20 John Morales
    Do you have the white knight syndrome? you always come to protect Marissa from me. Ok, but at least do it with something intelligent to say.

    Anyway: the topic here is about people who do not find wrong to make other people suffer for their pleasure. Marissa is such a person, so I was on topic.
    You, on the contrary, weren’t, apart from you final petty babbling about catholics and nuns: that is offtopic.

  23. chigau (違う) says

    The name on this thread is:
    “Why were nuns assumed to be good caretakers for children?”

  24. says

    A vast right-wing campaign of credulous dumbfuckery has convinced people to burst into a harmless pizzaria like Yosemite Sam kicking open a salon door, all in service of one of the most ludicrous conspiracy theories ever to crawl out of the depths of the internet. And yet, here is an actual case of monstrous torture, child sexual abuse, and worldwide corruption, and there’s not a peep to be heard from these people.

    The fact that Dale Greene did not leap over a table and rip out that lawyer’s throat with his bare hands makes him more deserving of sainthood than any POS the Catholic Church has already canonized.