Nuns beat, tortured, and even killed kids, say former orphanage residents — opening a new front in the Catholic abuse scandal pic.twitter.com/GvR2LLR6v9— AM to DM by BuzzFeed News (@AM2DM) August 27, 2018
The Catholic Church’s abuse of minors at the hands of priests has, once again, become an ongoing scandal.
With years of abuse knowingly covered up, victims have been speaking up, detailing abhorrent acts of torture and sexual assault from the institution they trusted the most.
But there is another scandal, much less reported but equally harrowing — if not more.
In a bombshell investigative report by Buzzfeed News: “We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage,” ghastly accusations against nuns have come up by the hundreds and thousands of victims that have been a part of the American Catholic orphanage system.
These victims claim nuns forced children eat their own vomit, beat them, hanged them upside down from windows, pricked their fingers with needles if they weren’t paying attention, closed them in closets and cabinets — for days at times — and even murdered children by pushing them off window ledges and drowning them.
Many of these victims are not alive to get justice and, according to reporter Christine Kenneally’s report, those who are have been criminally neglected.
The 30,000-word report highlights various locations worldwide where nuns subjected orphaned minors to horrifying abuse but Kenneally's report essentially focuses on one particular damning orphanage in Vermont: St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington.
From mid-1800s to 1974 — when the orphanage closed — it was home to thousands of children, who faced horrific physical abuse at the hands of the nuns.
The scandals against the Catholic Church have usually been limited to sexual abuse; victims have come forward and now, decades later, they have a voice, people believe them, want to listen to them.
But the most gut-wrenching stories are of those who never lived to tell the tale. And those who did, were silenced.
Sally Dale, who lived in the St. Joseph orphanage from age two to 23, came forward with her account of the abuse she faced and witnessed after The Burlington Free Press reported, in detail, about the said orphanage’s child abuse in the 1990s.
Dale revealed her harrowing experience to lawyer Robert Widman. She recalled encounters too horrific to put into words of a boy being drowned, a Sister pushing a boy out of a window and another nun calming she had “vivid imagination” after she witnessed the horrible death.
She also recalled being forced to kiss the dead body of a boy who had died of electrocution and being forced to retrieve a ball from a fire pit, which blackened her skin. She was also molested by the resident chaplain.
Widman, then, on behalf of Dale and at least 30 other residents of the orphanage, filed lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, Catholic Charities, and the Sisters of Providence in 1996, where in November Dale sat through a 19-hour deposition.
The defense lawyer tried to discredit the testimonies of the victims, calling them "antediluvian” and “impossibly stale.”
The court then made the ordeal tougher on survivors, ruling the victims could not file a case together and the letters — which allegedly talked about child abuse in the orphanage — written by a lawyer who worked on the case before did not have to be handed over by the Church.
“Dear Bill … If L was caught not paying attention, the nuns would take a needle and regularly prick his fingertips,” read a letter to Bill O’Brien, the church’s attorney.
“K remembers that Sister Madeline and Sister Claire … slapped her head and face, pulled her hair, struck her face with the backs of their hands, so that their rings split her lips, and tripped her and knocked her down,” another letter read.
Many victims never got the justice the sought and deserved, often slapped with partial settlement. The recounted events, more than 20 years after first being reported, still get corroborated with new details that outline horrific physical abuse.
Some of the revelations were so gory, Kenneally found them hard to believe. Case in point: A boy got electrocuted while trying to crawl under a metal fence. But the BuzzFeed reporter later found the death certificate, which proved Dale’s account.
According to the certificate, 13-year-old Joseph Millette died from electrical burns in April 1955, after he “crawled under a high tension wire and made contact through metal helmet.”
It wasn’t clear why he was wearing a helmet or decided to crawl under high tension wire.
But if Dale was alive, who died 18 years ago of cancer, she would assume he would probably say he was trying an unsuccessful attempt to escape.
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