By Rosie Dawson
The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has finished hearing evidence as part of its investigation into child migration programmes. One of the strands of this investigation has been the involvement of Roman Catholic organisations in the emigration of Scottish children to homes run by religious orders in Australia.
Evidence presented to the inquiry last week included an analysis by Professor Gordon Lynch of Kent University, of the extent of sexual abuse at four residential institutions run by the Christian Brothers in Western Australia. His evidence drew both on 49 witness statements received by previous inquiries and on previously unresearched archives from the National Library of Australia.
Professor Lynch told the inquiry that 34 of the 100 brothers working at institutions at Bindoon, Castledare, Clontarf and Tardun during the period 1947-65 are alleged to have sexually abused boys in their care. Six of these alleged abusers were superiors in charge of these institutions who were responsible for staff discipline.
Brothers against whom allegations of abuse have been made, were far more likely to be transferred between these institutions than those against whom no allegations had been made.
Professor Lynch said his evidence suggested there may have been direct collusion between brothers in the sexual abuse of some boys. This extended beyond individual institutions to contacts between alleged abusers across all four of institutions, as well as to some priests and visitors.
“The Australian Royal Commission had already established that three of these residential institutions were among the worst in the country in terms of the number of claims for sexual abuse made against their staff,” Professor Lynch told the Religion Media Centre.
“Now we know more about the sheer scale of alleged abusers in these children’s homes and contacts between them, this increasingly looks like one of the worst sexual abuse scandals in post-war Australian history.”
Some Scottish child migrants were sent overseas under the auspices of the Catholic Child Welfare Council whose remit formally extended only to England and Wales. In some cases, immigration forms for Scottish children were signed on behalf of Catholic organisations in Scotland. No evidence has been found that some of these organisations existed.
Catholic agencies’ monitoring of child migrants’ welfare was inadequate or non-existent even though abuse victims have described numerous occasions on which they tried to disclose their experiences while living in the Australian institutions.
The inquiry also heard that several hundred Catholic children were sent to Western Australia without proper consent from their parents or diocesan child rescue administrators. And despite Catholic officials — including Cardinal Bernard Griffin, then Archbishop of Westminster, who died in 1956 — knowing that children were being sent abroad without this required consent, they continued to collaborate with Australian administrators in sending children overseas.
The abuse inquiry was set up on 1 October 2015 with Lady Smith a judge of the Supreme Courts of Scotland, in the chair. She will report to Scottish ministers “as soon is reasonably practicable”, with recommendations to improve the law, policies and practices in Scotland.