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.