The Ryan Report, released in May, opened a window into a shameful part of our heritage as Catholics, the abuse of children in so many institutions run by Catholic Religious Orders. However, it is as much a part of our Catholic heritage as any other. It is part of what makes us what we are and we must ensure that we learn from it in order to become what we should be - and what we should have been all along.
To say that some were different should not minimize the sufferings of children or the wrongs of abusers. It should show us that we can always choose what is right, even in the midst of wrongdoing.
Father Edward J. Flanagan was different. He was the world-famous founder of 'Boys' Town' in Nebraska. It was not because of his fame that he was different but because of his sense of goodness and his courage to live up to that sense. Because he was different, President Harry S. Truman asked him to undertake a tour of Asia and Europe in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War to assess the plight of children - and to assess what might be done to alleviate that plight.
While travelling, he stopped off in Ireland. His visit to Ireland wasn't part of the official itinerary. It was simply a visit to the land of his birth, as he passed through Europe. However, because he was different, because he could not be indifferent to the situation of children, while in Ireland, he visited some of the institutions that housed them. His reaction was a stark condemnation of those institutions and the system that controlled them.
Because of the Hollywood film Boys' Town, released in 1938, ten years before this mission, Fr. Flanagan was treated like a National hero and a media celebrity - at first. Addressing a packed auditorium in Cork's Savoy Cinema, Fr. Flanagan said: "You are the people who permit your children and the children of your communities to go into these institutions of punishment. You can do something about it."
He called Ireland’s penal institutions "a disgrace to the nation," and later said "I do not believe that a child can be reformed by lock and key and bars, or that fear can ever develop a child’s character." He also condemned the Industrial School system as “a scandal, un-Christlike, and wrong,” adding that the Christian Brothers had lost its way.
The Irish Minister for Justice later stated: “I am not disposed to take any notice of what Monsignor Flanagan said while he was in this country, because his statements were so exaggerated that I did not think people would attach any importance to them.” Sadly, in that last point, he was correct.
Fr. Flanagan died in Berlin in 1948 while on this mission for the children of the world.
Some were different from the men and women who abused children under the veil of Religion or who hid that abuse under the same veil. The rest, the rest of us, it seems, were indifferent at best.
We participate in the sin of another: by counsel; by command; by consent; by provocation; by praise or flattery; by concealment; by partaking; by silence; by defense of the ill done.
We are forgiven our sins: by acknowledging our fault; by confessing our guilt; by our sorrow and our repentence; by purposing amendment; by reparation for the harm done.
Our Lady, Comfort of the Afflicted, pray for us!