Children in homes run by nuns in the religious order the Sisters of Nazareth were abused sexually and physically and subjected to “emotional degradation” a new report by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry says.

The Inquiry’s chair Lady Smith said some sexual abuse of children “reached levels of the utmost depravity.” 

She rejected claims that some witnesses to the inquiry may have made up their stories. Lady Smith said: “It was suggested in evidence that applicants may have colluded to present fictitious accounts about their time in their care, fuelled by resentment towards their families and an appetite for compensation. I reject all such suggestions.

“The Nazareth Houses in Scotland were, for many children, places of fear, hostility and confusion, places where children were physically abused and emotionally degraded with impunity.

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“There was sexual abuse of children which, in some instances, reached levels of the utmost depravity. Children in need of kind, warm, loving care and comfort did not find it.” In fact, children were actively deprived of compassion, dignity, care and comfort, she added.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry investigated residential institutions run by the Sisters of Nazareth (SoN) between 1933 and 1984. Over nearly four weeks of hearings, the Inquiry considered evidence from dozens of witnesses about the nature and extent of the abuse of children in care at SoN institutions, with a particular focus on Nazareth Houses in Aberdeen, Cardonald, Lasswade, and Kilmarnock.

The Inquiry also examined the policies and procedures in place in the homes, and how they were applied.

This is its second report, after a case study of Smyllum House and other institutions run by the order The Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. In October last year, the inquiry concluded these homes had been places of “threat and abuse”.

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Lady Smith will take her findings about both orders into account when she analyses all the evidence gathered by the Inquiry and decides what recommendations to make within the final report.

The SoN case study to involved 27 days of hearings. Between April and July, the the Inquiry heard evidence from 39 witnesses about their experience in Nazareth Houses and two witnesses also spoke to the experiences of their family member.  A further 29 people gave written statements and the inquiry heard audio evidence from a woman who was abused while in care in Nazareth House in Kilmarnock,  who made a recording prior to her death.

One of the victims of abuse whose evidence is prominent in the report is Helen Holland, a former resident of Nazareth House in Kilmarnock, who told the inquiry about a catalogue of abuse, including being raped by a priest while a nun held her down, as well as countless daily abuses and humiliations including being told she would go to the devil because "hell is in your name". 

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She said she had mixed feelings about the report. "Part of me feels really grateful that after all this time. a High Court judge has accepted and believed the evidence. But there is a sadness as well that it had to take all this to get where we are. If we had truly been believed sooner, action could have been taken while some of the perpetrators were still alive".

Alan Draper, who like Ms Holland, campaigned over many years for an independent inquiry, said he welcomed Lady Smith's comments about the truthfulness of witnesses. “I’m glad she said it. It is standard for institutions and organisations to do all in their power to prevent victims getting justice and minimise the impact on the institution," he said.

"As part of this they imply victims are ‘only in it for the money’. It’s a common tactic and I’m glad the Inquiry saw through it.”

An inquiry spokesman said other witnesses continue to come forward to the Inquiry with relevant evidence about the care provided by SoN and this will be considered as part of the continuing process.