Catholic Church to investigate allegations of abuse at children’s homes

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Amid pub­lic out­cry and out­rage over the al­leged abuse at chil­dren’s homes, the Ro­man Catholic Church will in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of such be­hav­iour at its in­sti­tu­tions, which was ex­posed in the Jus­tice Ju­dith Jones Re­port.

The an­nounce­ment came hours af­ter act­ing Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Mc­Don­ald Ja­cob told Guardian Me­dia that the T&T Po­lice Ser­vice had es­tab­lished a spe­cial team to ex­am­ine the Jones re­port.

The team, head­ed by act­ing Su­per­in­ten­dent of the Gen­der-Based Vi­o­lence Unit (GB­VU) Claire Guy-Al­leyne, will al­so look in­to the 1997 Robert Sab­ga Re­port.

Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley re­cent­ly called on the po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions.

Arch­bish­op Ja­son Gor­don yes­ter­day said the church’s in­ves­tiga­tive team will com­prise ex­perts in psy­chol­o­gy, child­care/so­cial work, law and hu­man re­source man­age­ment in a me­dia re­lease yes­ter­day.

Gor­don said the church ac­knowl­edged the Jones re­port, ti­tled Safe­guard­ing chil­dren in com­mu­ni­ty res­i­dences and child sup­port cen­tres in Trinidad and To­ba­go, dat­ed De­cem­ber 14, 2021.

He said the church sin­cere­ly thanks the in­de­pen­dent team ap­point­ed by the Cab­i­net for their work in pro­duc­ing the re­port, as «every child is a gift from God and de­serves love and pro­tec­tion from all forms of abuse.»

«These al­le­ga­tions grieve our hearts and we shall do every­thing we can to bring heal­ing and jus­tice. The Church takes se­ri­ous­ly any, and all, al­le­ga­tions of this na­ture and in this re­gard, has im­me­di­ate­ly launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to now ver­i­fy the truth of the al­le­ga­tions,» Gor­don said.

He not­ed a state­ment on page 10 of the re­port that stat­ed, «This re­port aims not to es­tab­lish the truth of the al­le­ga­tions of abuse, but to ac­knowl­edge the al­le­ga­tions, ex­am­ine the sys­tem that fa­cil­i­tates a fail­ure to safe­guard chil­dren in these spaces and pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions for im­prove­ment.»

With a man­date to preach and live the gospel with con­cerns for the to­tal well-be­ing of all peo­ple, es­pe­cial­ly chil­dren, Gor­don gave the as­sur­ance that the church will take all mea­sures to de­ter­mine the facts and re­spond ac­cord­ing­ly with its pub­lic du­ty. He said the in­ves­ti­ga­tions will al­so pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions for im­prove­ment in the fu­ture.

The Jones re­port ex­posed hor­ren­dous sto­ries of phys­i­cal abuse at var­i­ous chil­dren’s homes, some of it de­scribed as non-ac­ci­den­tal in­ci­dents which re­sult­ed in death. The 307-page re­port al­so de­tailed the sex­u­al, phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse many chil­dren faced at these in­sti­tu­tions. They in­clude punch­ing, beat­ing, kick­ing, bit­ing, shak­ing, throw­ing, stab­bing, chok­ing, hit­ting and burn­ing, in­flict­ed by adults or old­er chil­dren.

The Jones re­port not­ed that the St Jude’s Home for Girls, an in­sti­tu­tion un­der the Catholic Church, had a staff that pro­mot­ed a cul­ture of abuse, as it in­sti­gat­ed beat­ings.

The 1997 Sab­ga re­port, com­mis­sioned by the Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress gov­ern­ment, con­tained ex­plic­it find­ings of vis­its to 10 chil­dren’s homes and found sim­i­lar hor­ror sto­ries.

Again, St Jude’s was list­ed as the worst. The in­ves­tiga­tive team learned of a cor­ri­dor lead­ing to the mu­sic room where staff whipped chil­dren with cur­tain wires, belts, slip­pers and alu­mini­um strips. It re­port­ed that a su­per­vi­sor stripped and beat a girl in the cor­ri­dor and shoved her head in a buck­et of wa­ter. De­priv­ing chil­dren of food was al­so a form of pun­ish­ment. 

Over the years, po­lice had to re­spond to sev­er­al cas­es of girls run­ning away from the home and some­times found them in places that were not ac­cept­able for a child.

As pub­lic up­roar rages on, Guardian Me­dia at­tempt­ed to con­tact for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Bas­deo Pan­day, whose Cab­i­net com­mis­sioned the Sab­ga re­port. How­ev­er, there was no an­swer to sev­er­al phone calls. 

Al­so con­tact­ed, Ramesh Lawrence Ma­haraj, SC, the then-at­tor­ney gen­er­al, said he could not re­call if any­one brought the Sab­ga re­port to his at­ten­tion. Ma­haraj said if it ex­ist­ed, he sup­posed the min­is­ter in charge knew about it. 

«I was At­tor­ney Gen­er­al from 1995-2001 and dur­ing that pe­ri­od of time, I have no rec­ol­lec­tion of hav­ing seen that re­port. If such a re­port was brought to my at­ten­tion, I would have act­ed on it,» Ma­haraj said.

Guardian Me­dia al­so tried to con­tact for­mer min­is­ter of com­mu­ni­ty em­pow­er­ment, sport and con­sumer af­fairs Manohar Ram­saran, un­der whose purview chil­dren’s homes fell then, but calls to his phones were unan­swered.

Ram­saran con­firmed that he re­ceived the Sab­ga Re­port in a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle this week. He said it hap­pened long ago and was nev­er a se­cret, as all Cab­i­net mem­bers got a copy.

Asked whether he sent a copy of the re­port to the po­lice for in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he said his in­ter­est was not per­son­al or to lock up any­one, but a fact-find­ing mis­sion.

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LINK ORIGINAL: The Trinidad Guardian

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