DUBLIN (Reuters) - Priests beat and raped children during decades of abuse in Catholic-run institutions in Ireland, an official report said on Wednesday, but it stopped short of naming the perpetrators.
Orphanages and industrial schools in 20th century Ireland were places of fear, neglect and endemic sexual abuse, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse said in a harrowing five-volume report that took nine years to compile.
The Commission, chaired by a High Court judge, blasted successive generations of priests, nuns and Christian Brothers -- a Catholic religious order -- for beating, starving and, in some cases raping, children in Ireland's now defunct network of industrial and reformatory schools from the 1930s onwards.
"When confronted with evidence of sexual abuse, the response of the religious authorities was to transfer the offender to another location where, in many instances, he was free to abuse again," the report said.
"Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from."
The report slammed the Department of Education for its failure to stop the crimes. In rare cases when it was informed of sexual abuse, "it colluded in the silence," the report said.
Successful legal action by the Christian Brothers, the largest provider of residential care for boys in the country, led the Commission to drop its original intention to name the people against whom the allegations were made.
No abusers will be prosecuted as a result of the inquiry.
John Kelly, coordinator of the Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA) group, said there could be no closure without accountability.
"I have been getting phone calls all day from former residents, they feel their wounds have been reopened for nothing," he told Reuters. "They were promised justice by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) in 1999 and they feel cheated. They expected that the abusers would face prosecution."
The Christian Brothers said they were appalled at the revelations but denied that their lawsuit had obstructed the report. "We are deeply sorry, deeply regretful for what has been put before us today," Brother Edmund Garvey said.
Many of the children were sent into church care because of school truancy, petty crime or because they were unmarried mothers or their offspring. Some were used as labourers, churning out rosary beads or set to work on farms.
Sexual abuse was endemic in boys' institutions and girls were preyed on by sexual predators who were able to operate unhindered.
The Commission interviewed 1,090 men and women who were housed in 216 institutions including children's homes, hospitals and schools. They told of scavenging for food from waste bins and animal feed, of floggings, scaldings and being held under water. There were underwear inspections and in one case, a boy was forced to lick excrement from a priest's shoe.
Absconders were flogged and some had their heads shaved.
Tom Sweeney, who spent five years at industrial schools including two years at the notorious Artane Industrial School, said it still haunted its former residents.
"Unfortunately there are a lot of people that have committed suicide, there are a lot of people that have ended up in hospitals and they have been forgotten about," he said.
Revelations of abuse, including a string of scandals involving priests molesting young boys, have eroded the Catholic Church's moral authority in Ireland, once one of the most religiously devout countries in the world.
The inquiry, conducted at a reported cost of 70 million euros (61.5 million pounds), was announced in 1999 by then Prime Minister Bertie Ahern after he apologised to victims following revelations made in a series of television documentaries.
The government has paid out around 825 million euros in compensation to former residents of the institutions and the final bill is likely to top 1 billion euros.
The report can be downloaded at: here
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)