Sister Ellen Flynn, a nun in charge of a Catholic order, broke down in tears today when she was testifying at an inquiry into child abuse at at Smyllum Park orphanage in Scotland.
According to the BBC Sister Ellen Flynn said “horrifying” accounts of abuse at the Lanark care home were “totally against” everything the order stood for.
She was giving evidence at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry in Edinburgh.
The inquiry has already heard weeks of evidence about the institution, which was shut in 1981.
One former resident, who was a child at the orphanage in the 1960s, has told the inquiry there was a “culture of evil among religious orders” at that time.
The nun said said that her heart was with the survivors, as she vowed the order would engage with them and the probe to:
Put right what wrongs are found.
The pledge came as she and another witness admitted a variety of historical failures had taken place at the home, including “weak” governance and record-keeping.
Dozens of former residents have testified that they received beatings and were mistreated at the home, run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.
Sister Ellen, who is the current head of the order, said:
For those who are in distress, for those whom we have hurt in any way, our deepest and most sincere apologies. If we can do something about it, let us know.
She and another nun, Sister Eileen Glancy – who also gave evidence – told the hearing that they wished to amend a previous apology because they now realised that there was “more than a possibility that some abuse had occurred” at Smyllum.
Last June, Flynn denied knowledge of abuse at Smyllum.
We are very apologetic, but in our records we can find no evidence or anything that substantiates the allegations.
According to this report, Sister Glancy said at an earlier hearing that the congregation was at a “complete loss” over what happened to the medical records of former residents and personal records kept by nuns who worked at Smyllum.
Asked by Colin MacAulay QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, if the records had been destroyed, she said:
I think they must have been because they are certainly nowhere in any of our establishments. I presume they must have been destroyed.
Asked about those who said they continued to have emotional difficulties as a consequence of their time in the care of the religious order, Sister Ellen said:
The core of our being is to be there for vulnerable people in distress. I think the core of our being has been wrenched by some of the testimonies. We accompany people who suffer with long-lasting effects of things that have happened to them.
So we feel the impact and for any child that has been abused whilst in our care we would feel the very, very deep sense of regret.
She described the contradictions in evidence between the survivors and the various nuns who described Smyllum as a “happy place” as “completely bewildering”.
The witness also spoke of the order’s “ingrained” values, in particular of serving the poor.
There is a hugely long tradition around how to behave with dignity and respect around children. So I find it really difficult to think that there was something systemic going on.
I can’t speak for the actions of individuals and I’m quite prepared to say that there’s a possibility that many of the punishments occurred.
The nuns also admitted that the order did not properly engage with allegations of abuse when they first emerged in the late 1990s.
Sister Ellen also told the inquiry that the allegations were:
Totally alien. It’s totally against everything that we stand for. We’ve been torn apart by this. I’m not defending us by saying that. I’m finding it hard to understand it.
Obviously I want to stand by these people who have come forward. These were our children. We will respond in whatever way we can to try to put right what wrongs are found.
The inquiry, before Lady Smith, continues.