Some acquaintances who attended Christian Brothers schools in the 1950s had good educational experiences,but in some schools there was a culture of violent corporal punishment,including beatings with fists and very painful canings on the hands for minor errors in class,such as a failure to recite accurately a great many lines of poetry. One acquaintance,a graduate of a Christian Brothers school who became a sergeant in the US Marine Corps, said the culture of the Marines was very similar,in the form of a somewhat sadistic military stoicism.
This culture must be viewed in the context of tolerant attitudes towards corporal punishment in Irish society. Historically,the Irish attitude was probably influenced by the culture in English boarding "public schools" for boys,in which corporal punishment included caning on bare buttocks until blood was drawn.This influence could have come from the many Irish protestant families who began educating their children in England with the introduction of steamships around 1860. In his autobiography, Winston Churchill stated that his privileged public school,Harrow,had a practice in the 1880s of flogging completely naked children as young as eight in a room off the study hall from where their screams were clearly audible.
There are folk tales that the Irish national school system which commenced under a Liberal UK government in the 1830s used considerable corporal punishment to discourage children from speaking Gaelic. Even into the 1970s,many Irish national primary schoolteachers used excessive corporal punishment,usually beatings with a stick on the palms, and humiliated students with cruel remarks.
This historic culture of corporal punishment paved the way for vicious sadism and sexual abuses perpetrated in the industrial schools run by the Christian Brothers.
But the most important reasons for sexual abuse were the cunning of the paedophiles and the coverups by the Christian Brothers religious of their crimes.
Court cases of paedophilia show the extraordinary lengths to which paedophiles will go to find work that brings them into contact with children, in occupations such as teaching,the clergy,coaching and school employees. This should not be surprising,given that sex drive motivates an awful lot of male behaviour and a perverted sex drive is no exception except for individuals whose moral conscience suppresses it.
As for the coverups,this is in the tradition of the authoritarian Catholic Church whose historic instinct since its foundation is to cover up anything that would damage the Church's reputation and "scandalise the laity".
Naively,the Church and especially the conservative Vatican didn't seem to realise that "truth will out" in an age of intense scrutiny by a free press and media.
Had the Church dealt decisively with the paedophiles by defrocking them immediately instead of transferring them to other parishes or schools,even though their crimes should have been reported to the police,there would be public sympathy for the coverups approach.
The key question is,why did churchmen tolerate the presence of known paedophiles in their midst? Did the Irish Church have a total sense of immunity from prosecution stemming from the priest ridden Ireland of the 1950s and earlier? Did churchmen feel that membership in the priesthood somehow placed paedophiles above the law? Did they feel that the child victims who were from single mother families and broken homes or who had committed petty crimes were morally inferior and undeserving of human sympathy? The sadistic behaviour of the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy towards children in industrial schools suggests that.
One conclusion I draw from the scandals is that the so called contemplative spiritual life of sexually repressed clergy in cloistered religious orders is psychologically unhealthy for most people.
As for the government coverups,historically Irish society was too deferential to the Church and the attitude of the government reflected that. Anything that seriously displeased the Church until maybe the late 1960s would have brought down the government.
No institution of society could challenge the Church then.The judiciary were composed of conservative catholics educated in the best schools. The media hardly knew how to do investigative reporting until a generation ago. The trade unions were inarticulate.
Will there be any consequences for the Church? Its influence on the Irish government and society will be continue to diminish and attendances at Church will become mostly social in character. A generation hence,African and Filipina immigrant priests will preside over ceremonies. The Filipina priests,who are very conservative,will strike Irish Catholics as odd,in the same way that primitive mullahs from Pakistan strike British Muslims.