Irish Americans have reacted with outrage and disgust to the Ryan Commission report on clerical abuse of children in Ireland.

The 2,600-page report concluded nine years of investigations into the claims by thousands of adults that they were abused for decades at reform schools and that the Irish government failed to do anything to stop it.

Over 30,000 Irish children, now between 50 and 80 years of age, were sent to industrial schools, orphanages and reformatories because they were deemed “dysfunctional.”

Johnny Rush, from County Roscommon native, said the findings were “just disgusting.”

Rush, 72, who attended Mass at St Barnabas church Sunday in the heavily Irish neighborhood of Woodlawn in New York said: “We knew it was going on for years, this sort of thing, but no one said a thing.

"I myself saw a lot of things that I will never repeat in the Christian Brothers School that I went to as a young lad, and it’s just a shame that it took all these years for it to come out in the open.”

Blind eye

Rush, who said he is still a devout Catholic and will be until the day he dies, added that what angered him the most is that parents, other teachers and adults turned a blind eye to what went on.

 “Kids would tell their parents, but sure what would happen then - they would get the beating at home for disrespecting their elders,” said Rush.

“Back then that was how it was, you kept your mouth shut and it was supposed to all go away. Well, that report in Ireland proves that it never went away.”

Rush tucked his rosary beads away as he left the steps of the church and blessed himself, a blessing he was giving up for the victims.

Fiona Brennan, who spent the first 10 years of her life in County Sligo before moving to County Derry with her family, said she wasn’t surprised. 

“The church has continuously moved priests around from parish to parish knowing that they had been accused of horrendous crimes,” she  said angrily. “Nothing will ever change unless prosecutions come from this.”

Church 'no longer respectable'

Brennan, a niece of John Hume -- leader of the Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland for over 40 years and winner of a Nobel Peace Prize -- remembers when she was growing up that it was forbidden to speak ill of a priest or say anything that would damage the reputation of the Catholic Church.

Brennan, 40, feels that it is now time, after the release of the Ryan report, for the hierarchy in the Catholic Church to realize that the church is no longer a “respectable institution.”

Seeking punishment for all the physical and mental scars that have been left with the thousands of victims, Brennan said, “The priests should be treated the same as any other male that committed these crimes. It’s disgusting that so many lives have been ruined by this.”

Brennan, who has been living in New York for 20 years, said she was very close to a case where a priest was accused of abusing a four-year-old child in Ireland.

“The Catholic Church paid his bail saying he was innocent until proven guilty. Then my question to them was why if he was innocent did he skip bail, and why justice has since never been served?”


Maurice Brick, a devout Catholic from Dingle, County Kerry who now lives in New York, described the report as “devastating.”

Brick, who attends Mass every morning of the week, said he was seriously shook up and would like to see the abusers accept responsibility.

“I hope they own up to it, to somehow assuage a fraction of the frustration and consternation they have caused for us throughout the world,” he said.

“But they’ll never erase the visions of children screaming in dank and darkened corridors. The fears. The shaking. The dread of day and night approaching.”

Brick said his best friend, Brother Quinn, who passed away two years ago at the age of 93, would have been repulsed to discover what really went on in those reform schools.

“His passion was learning and teaching English and Irish literature. He just couldn’t wait to impart his newfound knowledge to anyone. And he prayed a lot. I know, I caught him at it a number of times,” said Brick.

Brick said he would try and focus on the good souls he knows in the church.

“There is Fr. Tom Lynch from Dingle who has spent almost all his life in India serving his people. The laws of the area prohibit him from spreading Christianity. He says Mass alone. But his life is the people he serves,” he said. 

“And there’s Fr. Sean Myres in South America. Another local hero from Killarney who serves the poor. I will draw from them for now for hope and encouragement and a healing for the hurt I feel in the core of my soul.”

Another Kerryman, Gerry O’Shea, 65, said that the report just corroborates the stories of abuse that were already out in the open.

'Unconsionable behavior'

“We had heard from a few journalists and from a number of graduates of these schools about the horrible treatment that the kids received from those who were paid to care for them the past number of years,” he said.

O’Shea, from Kenmare, County Kerry, attended both primary and secondary school in Kerry, and said the victims’ stories of frequent flogging, of starvation and perverted sexual abuse, perpetrated against the most vulnerable children in Irish society, “shocked and enraged” him.

“As an educator who worked in high schools in Dublin and New York for 40 years, I find it completely unconscionable that boys and girls, who had nobody to speak for them, nobody even to listen or to comfort them, nobody in their corner, should have been subjected to daily terror by bullies, acting in the name of Christ,” said O’Shea.

The Ryan report, said O’Shea, makes it clear that the years of abuse reports were not the result of a “few bad apples.”

“No, the reign of terror took place up and down the country, over a period of more than 50 years, and involved no less than 18 religious orders of men and women,” he said.

Angered by the tortures and abuse that were administered at the hands of those who claimed to be holy, O’Shea questions, “How could men and women, trained in Catholic spirituality, attend Mass every day and walk around with breviaries and rosary beads, while terrorizing the children in their care?”


O’Shea feels monetary restitution is a must for all victims. “Payments to all those who suffered should be substantial and should come equally from the religious orders and the government,” he said.

And, moreover, he feels it’s necessary to make the abusers available so victims can face their torturers if they desire to do so. 

“Where possible, those who were terrorized and abused should be allowed to confront their tormentors,” he said.

Micheal Corridan, 36, from County Dublin, said he was surprised at “the extent of these crimes.”

“Growing up in Catholic Ireland, we were taught that our religion was our savior. Guiding us safe through life,” said Corridan.

“Even the teachers who were members of religious orders were given higher respect than lay teachers. To hear that these so-called religious people would commit such a crime was hard to comprehend and even harder to understand after the extent of the crimes came out.”


Like many others, Corridan feels that those responsible for the abuse documented in the Ryan report should face the law like everyone else who commits a crime.

“The fact that someone wears a collar, it doesn't exempt them from prosecution,” he says.

In order for the church to survive the crisis, Corridan feels it needs to “take responsibility for the wrongdoings of its members,” and act in a “proper manner” towards the victims instead of making halfhearted apologies.

American-born Mike McGovern, with roots in County Cavan, is an extremely devout Catholic. McGovern, 65, has been a Eucharistic minister for 12 years, and a catechist in his parish in Long Island for 11 years. He was the parish school board president and a volunteer with his wife at the parish social ministry office.

McGovern said that priests should be allowed to marry. “Then maybe pedophiles would most likely not be accepted,” he added.

McGovern, who attended Catholic schools during his childhood, said he could remember two nuns and two religious brothers hitting the kids.

“In eighth grade there was a nun called Sister Dynamite. She was feared by all the boys; she was always hitting them. She was about five-foot tall and about 250 pounds, I think. The brother principal loved to put the boys' over his knee, and wack them with a ruler, or hard across the hands,” recalls McGovern.

McGovern said those responsible for the lewd acts reported in the Ryan report should be “punished for the evil things they did.”

“Even priests and religious people should face up to what they have done,” he said.

What do you think about the abuse report? Talk to our reporter April Drew [email protected]