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  • Visualizing the Transfers of Abusers in the 2009 Ryan Report
  • Emilie Pine (bio), Susan Leavy (bio), and Mark T. Keane (bio)

The 2009 publication of the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (the Ryan report) marked the conclusion of a nine-year, state-funded, licensed investigation into residential care for Irish children at institutions managed by the Catholic church.1 It comprises five volumes, totaling more than 2,600 pages, including testimony from 1,712 witnesses. As Mary Raftery put it, the Ryan report "painstakingly charted the vast scale of abuse of tens of thousands of children within institutions." It established once and for all the systemic nature of abuse in Irish institutions, "giv[ing] us a compelling vision of the hell to which so many children were consigned."2

The presentation of these conditions includes analysis of the Catholic congregations' repeated response to allegations of abuse. For example, the report states in regard to the Christian Brothers, "The records of the congregation show that on a number of occasions individuals who were accused of sexual abuse were transferred to other [End Page 247] residential or day schools."3 Transferring an abuser became one way to protect the reputation of the institution and the order by minimizing conflict and the potential for public awareness and scandal:

In some cases brothers who had been sexually abusing children were, in their later careers, appointed to senior positions within the province. When asked at the phase I hearing for Letterfrack how this had happened, Br. Gibson explained that because the leadership in the congregation changed every twelve years, there was no memory within the organisation of offences committed before that. He acknowledged that there was a personal file for each brother and concluded that these files were not consulted in making appointments.4

Gibson blamed an amnesiac system for the promotion of abusers; the cause, however, was not amnesia. As Marie Keenan argues, "an unusually consistent pattern has emerged in the handling of abuse complaints by Catholic church leaders."5 This pattern includes denial, cover-up, and in the case of staff employed at residential institutions, the transfer of abusers from one institution to another in the wake of allegations of abuse.

The congregational response to abuse—to transfer, to pretend to forget, to avoid public knowledge—was not limited to a few occasions or solely to the Christian Brothers. The report notes the repeated transfer of one priest, Father Santino of the Rosminian Order:

With the knowledge that the order possessed about his past history and attitudes, they must have been aware of the likelihood that he would sexually abuse boys in this institution. It follows that the order was prepared to put boys at risk in order to find a place for somebody who might cause public scandal if he were to be located elsewhere.6

Again, the report contends that "transferring abusers to other institutions where they would be in contact with children put those children [End Page 248] at risk."7 It also notes the transfer of problematic nuns in and out of the Sisters of Mercy institution at Cappoquin. The Ryan report's authors conclude, "When confronted with evidence of sexual abuse, the response of the religious authorities was to transfer the offender to another location where in many instances he was free to abuse again…. The safety of children in general was not a consideration."8

Despite this evidence, no consistent analysis of transfers as a system-wide pattern of response to abuse is offered, for the Ryan report is structured as an in-depth narrative focusing on one institution at a time. This organization generates a thorough story about each institution and certain individuals singled out for analysis; however, it also means that if readers seek to understand systemic congregational responses to allegations of abuse in more than one institution at a time, they must be familiar with the entirety of the document. Missing in the report is a section that specifically analyses the series of events that lead to and follow the transfer of staff between institutions. Such an analysis of organizational responses to abuse would not only indicate how congregations...


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pp. 247-251
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