Government inquiry documents abuse at Catholic orphanages in Scotland

Government inquiry documents abuse at Catholic orphanages in Scotland

Government inquiry documents abuse at Catholic orphanages in Scotland

Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark. (Credit: SCAI.)

A new report published Thursday in Scotland shows that children suffered abuse at two children’s care homes run by a Catholic religious order, both of which have been closed for decades.

LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A new report published Thursday in Scotland shows that children suffered abuse at two children’s care homes run by a Catholic religious order, both of which have been closed for decades.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) said that the two children’s facilities run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul – Smyllum Park in Lanark and Bellevue House in Rutherglen – were “places of fear, coercive control, threat, excessive discipline and emotional, physical and sexual abuse, where they found no love, no compassion, no dignity and no comfort.”

The interim report said that the children at the homes were “systematically starved of love, dignity and compassion.”

In August, Police arrested around a dozen former members of the staff at Smyllum Park, which closed in 1981, on charges of historic abuse. All those arrested were over 60.

Bellevue House closed in 1961.

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The SCAI was established in 2015 to investigate historic child abuse in Scotland that has taken place within the living memory of victims. It is headed by Lady Anne Smith, a member of Scotland’s Supreme Court. The investigation into the two care homes is the first report issued by the institution.

Smith received oral testimony from 54 witnesses, along with 21 additional written statements. The inquiry covered the period from 1917-1981.

“Children were sexually abused in Smyllum and at St Vincent’s in Newcastle, a home run by the [Daughters of Charity] Order on behalf of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, to which a Smyllum family was transferred. Children were sexually abused by priests, a trainee priest, Sisters, members of staff and a volunteer. There was also problematic sexual behavior by other children,” the report said.

The inquiry found that children “were hit with and without implements, either in an excess of punishment or for reasons which the child could not fathom.”

Beatings were administered with leather straps, hairbrushes, sticks, dog leashes, and even religious items such as crucifixes and rosaries.

The report noted that non-Catholics, bedwetters, and children who were left-handed suffered particular abuse.

“For some children, being hit was a normal aspect of daily life,” Smith said.

The report also said that the children were abused emotionally in different ways.

“They were frequently humiliated, controlled and insulted, made to feel worthless, denigrated and subjected to punishments which were unjustified,” Smith said.

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“That emotional abuse is likely to have been exacerbated by the unavailability of family support in circumstances where siblings were routinely separated, where children were told that they did not have family anymore and where there was no evidence of family visits being actively encouraged (on the contrary, some family visitors were sent away). Nor was there a reliable system for marking children’s birthdays; some children didn’t know when their birthday was,” she continued.

In her report, Smith noted that a lack of training played a role in the extent of the abuse at the care homes.

“The vast majority of the Sisters were young, inexperienced and had had no prior training in child care. There was no evidence that the lay staff had any such training either. Nor were they given any proper account of the children’s background circumstances, particularly of what traumatic events had caused them to be placed in care,” she said.

The inquiry’s investigation into the two homes came just months after a newspaper reported that hundreds of children who died at the Smyllum Park orphanage were buried in a mass grave at a local cemetery.

In her report, Smith noted “cost was often an issue” for the lack of headstones at the cemetery.

Although the first report from the SCAI covered Catholic-run facilities, the inquiry will also look into homes run by the predominant Church of Scotland and other bodies.

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