Abuse victims across Scotland to lodge law suits against Catholic institutions
By Bill Heaney
How could they not have known? That is the question every practising Catholic in Scotland must be asking themselves this week following the damning report of Lady Smith at the Child Abuse Inquiry in Edinburgh.
It was revealed today that former residents who, according to the judge, were subjected to physical and sexual abuse at two Catholic orphanages are suing the religious order that ran them.
And that at least ten people are taking legal action against the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul.
Lady Smith, pictured above, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry’s chairwoman, said Smyllum Park near Lanark and Bellevue House, Rutherglen, were “places of fear”.
The order of nuns has offered its “heartfelt apology” to anyone abused in its care.
Ordinary Catholics are wringing their hands in dismay verging on anger at the judge’s findings.
Her report from the child abuse inquiry found that children were beaten with hairbrushes, leather straps and crucifixes at the homes.
They were sexually abused in Smyllum by priests, a trainee priest, nuns, members of staff and a volunteer.
It came after the inquiry heard evidence from 54 witnesses about their experiences at Smyllum Park, which closed in 1981, and Bellevue House, which closed in 1961.
The judge said the children found “no love, no compassion, no dignity and no comfort” at the homes.
Scotland’s Catholic bishops, pictured above, were in Rome for a meeting with Pope Francis last month and the subject of clerical and religious child abuse was high on the agenda.
Many Catholics felt it should have been at the very top of what was discussed in the Vatican.
Those Catholics who have not drifted away from church attendance since these shock revelations of obscene clerical conduct are now waiting in fear and trepidation Lady Smith’s findings from the rest of the inquiry, which is ongoing.
At first, it was estimated that it would last for five years and cost £15 million.
Now the Scottish Government has decided it won’t be over until it’s over and all outstanding allegations have been heard.
What concerns a large number of Catholics is – apart from the abuse itself and the ill-treatment of children –the fact that these allegations have taken so long to come into the public domain.
They have seldom if ever at all been referred to from the altar or in letters to priests from their bishops, and certainly not in the Catholic press.
When serious allegations against Cardinal Keith O’Brien, pictured right, Britain’s most senior Catholic clergyman – the priests are exclusively men – became public on the eve of the conclave which elected Pope Francis, Catholic newspapers played it down and attempted to fudge the issue.
The priests, journalists and others behind the allegations were publicly reviled for exposing the cardinal’s sins.
Earlier some newspapers had dismissed the report of another inquiry, the McLellan Commission, convened by the Catholic Church under a past Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as “a whitewash”.
Thompsons Solicitors in Glasgow have now confirmed it is pursuing ten legal cases from Smyllum and “many more” are likely to launch court action.
Laura Connor, a partner with the firm, said: “Many of those who gave evidence to the inquiry about Smyllum and Bellevue are our clients and the evidence they have provided the inquiry and ourselves means that we are now able to proceed immediately with this legal action.
“It’s important to survivors that the charity now formally acknowledge the inquiry’s finding, issue an apology to those who have been affected and admit liability in civil claims against them.
“This will allow the survivors from these institutions to gain some form of justice for the life changing abuse they have suffered.”
She said the survivors want the legal matters to be resolved as quickly as possible, which appears to match the mood of most Catholics in Scotland.
They want to see an end to the damaging “drip, drip” of bad publicity these reports are having and the deleterious effect they are having on their Church.
Ms Connor, pictured left, added: “”We expect The Sisters of Charity to show compassion and understanding in this matter and not to put people who have already suffered so much at their hands through further anguish and delay,” she added.
In a statement published last week, the Daughters of Charity said: “Lady Smith’s findings describe events and practices which are totally out of keeping with the fundamental values which underpin our life and mission and we are committed to giving this report our utmost attention. We most sincerely offer our heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered any form of abuse whilst in our care.”
Meanwhile, the Bishops of Scotland who are struggling to recruit clergy to staff their many parishes, have made some changes to the calendar of Holy Days of Obligation – the first amendments in 32 years.
Starting on the First Sunday of Advent the holy days, which are days on which Catholics are expected to attend Mass, will be:
Feast of SS Peter and Paul (29 June)
Feast of the Assumption (15 August)
All Saints Day (November 1)
Where the Holy Days of SS Peter and Paul and the Assumption fall on a Saturday or Monday they will be moved to the Sunday.
All Saints Day will move to the Sunday if it falls on a Saturday, but not if it falls on a Monday, this is to ensure that All Saints and All Souls fall on consecutive days.
The changes were approved by the Holy See earlier this year and come into effect on the First Sunday of Advent 2018.