John Scott QC, representing In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), said the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul had shown a “sceptical attitude” amid claims of historical abuses at Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark.
While he accused the order of being more interested in its previous “good name”, the Daughters of Charity later insisted their apology was “unqualified and unequivocal”.
The statements came as Scotland’s Child Abuse Inquiry heard some of the practices alleged to have taken place “might well amount to a crime in Scots law”, if proven.
Inquiry chair Lady Smith heard submissions in Edinburgh on Tuesday from core participants to the probe after 20 days of evidence about institutions run by the order, namely Smyllum and Bellevue House in Rutherglen.
Almost 50 former residents have testified about mistreatment they say they suffered at the hands of nuns and staff, particularly at Smyllum, which closed in 1981.
The Daughters of Charity has previously issued written and verbal statements to the inquiry and the probe has also heard apologies from senior figures now in charge of the order.
However, Mr Scott told Lady Smith: “Unfortunately it seems to many survivors that they have not been heard by the Daughters of Charity whose sceptical attitude continues to pervade their official response.”
He said he had no doubt the upset of the senior nuns was genuine but added: “I regret that their purported apology was unconvincing for survivors.
“It seems to some survivors that the Daughters of Charity have continued to be more interested in what was once the good name of their order and Smyllum Park orphanage.
“Survivors have heard no sincere and heartfelt apology and therefore no apology at all.”
He invited Lady Smith to make various findings in fact, including that many children were deprived of affection at Smyllum, that some were forced to eat, verbally abused, humiliated for wetting the bed and that children of all ages were assaulted by nuns and staff.
Gregor Rolfe, counsel for the Daughters of Charity, told Lady Smith the order is “horrified” by the accounts of people’s experiences at the institutions, which have “rocked the community to its core”.
“They offer their sincere and heartfelt apologies to those applicants and their family members who are dealing with the lifelong effects of the experiences they described,” he said.
“Their apology to those affected by abuse … is unqualified and it is unequivocal.”
Meanwhile, David Anderson, for the Bishops Conference of Scotland, said two general findings in fact were open to Lady Smith in light of the evidence – that a “significant number of incidents of child abuse” took place at the institutions in question, and that the Daughters of Charity “did not have sufficient safeguards in place” to prevent abuse.
The inquiry has heard a team of prosecutors is reviewing allegations of abuse of children in care which were reported to it by the police.
Martin Richardson QC, representing the Lord Advocate, said that, where appropriate, cases are being reinvestigated using modern investigative techniques “and consideration is being given as to whether or not a prosecution can and should now be brought”.
“A number of the witnesses who gave evidence to the inquiry spoke about practices which, if proved following due process including a criminal trial, might well amount to a crime in Scots law,” he said.
The inquiry previously heard from around a dozen nuns who worked at Smyllum in the past, with many describing it as a happy place.
Colin MacAulay QC, counsel to the inquiry, told Lady Smith there was a “real degree of consistency” in the allegations of abuse given to the inquiry from survivors.
“The evidence of the sisters sits in stark contrast to the evidence heard from applicants on life at Smyllum and how children were treated there,” he said.
Public hearings for the inquiry will resume in April.
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A survivors’ group has hit out at “unconvincing” apologies from a religious order that ran a controversial care home where children were allegedly abused.
Written by: Miriam Emenike
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