Last Wednesday night, I watched the latest instalment of Stephen Nolan’s ever intriguing ; and although am I quite an icy person when it comes to broadcasts of an emotional nature; this particular story tested my tear-resolve to the fullest.
On the one hand, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness for the hurt that was etched in Kate Walmsey’s expression, but in an entirely different emotional extremity, I felt a tremendous sense of anger towards the Catholic Church for the incalculable degree of hurt it has caused Irish society.
Akin to the general response on social media, I wanted to hug this incredibly brave woman that was offloading details which had clearly ravaged her soul for years; but at the same time, I found myself repulsed by the comparatively minimal pain the Church has had to endure in penance for its heinous acts.
In reflection, the way I responded to Kate Walmsley’s story can only be described as a feeling of angry sadness – an inability to understand how somebody, let alone an appointed “man of God”, could so willingly violate (in the gravest imaginable way) a little girl.
What separated Story of a Lifetime from other illustrations of child abuse perpetrated by the Catholic Church was that it wasn’t just an exercise in statistics. Disturbingly, but in a manner that may force more liberal Catholics to revaluate the way they view the Church, Kate Walmsey didn’t simply identify herself as a victim of sexual abuse. Warmly chaperoned by Stephen Nolan, Kate gradually, but with a tangible air of crippling reluctance (presumably from being told during the most formative period of her life that she wasn’t entitled to a voice), detailed the specific acts which she was subjected to by the sadists that were then running amok within the Irish Catholic Church.
First of all, outlining a sort of timeline of her tenure at Nazareth House; Kate, with an air of emotion that was clearly still raw, talked about the witch-like conduct of the Derry-based nuns. Although people like Kate’s father believed that such an institution would act in the ethos of the man they claimed to be called by – Jesus after all, according to Biblical narratives, used his ministry to herald the importance of a child – the nuns instead behaved in a manner that was totally and utterly demonic.
Before discussing the graver details of the abuse she was subjected to, Kate talked about the very initial stages of sadistic behaviour which she experienced in Nazareth House. After Kate and her sister were permanently left by their father to the stewardship of the nuns; the latter, rather than attempting to ease the Walmsley sisters into such an unfamiliar environment, promptly marched the young girls to a bath – where they were aggressively scrubbed in silence.
When the bath itself had been completed, the nuns then proceeded to strip the young girls of their identity as women by cutting their hair in a boyish fashion. Much like the behaviour of the Nazis in conducting the Holocaust, the Nazarene nuns stripped the young girls of their character – effectively assimilating them into the cycle of depravity that was to follow.
Shortly after her move to Nazareth House, Kate Walmsey was cruelly earmarked by one of the nuns as a “bed-wetter”. For this obviously “mortal sin”, which just about every child experiences at some point in their life, Kate was put in a sort of solitary confinement; where she remained in total darkness, wearing nothing but a little night gown, for the entirety of a cold, wintry night. Having been told by the nuns of Nazareth House that the devil was at some point going to come and take each of the children, a young Kate believed that this was the night she would meet such a fate. Imagine that image for a moment; a young girl, half-dressed and hunched over in a cold, dark room… waiting to be taken by an otherworldly entity.
As if spending a night in total isolation wasn’t terrifying enough for a young child; Kate awoke to being viciously beaten by a nun. Evidently therefore, even when it seemed like the nuns had exhausted every possible avenue of evil behaviour; the terror of Nazarene House, in a spinning wheel-like fashion, never ceased.
Further shaming the young girls, Kate also remarked how the “bed-wetters” would be draped in their urine-laden bed sheet. Showing no limitations to the depths of their wickedness – in a sort of satanic version of the Shroud of Turin – the nun would actually rub the dirty sheet in the child’s face.
On another occasion, when being force fed prison-quality porridge (which all the children were visibly repulsed by), Kate was physically sick. Rather than simply revising the choice of breakfast like any sane guardian would do, one particularly wretched nun proceeded to aggressively feed Kate the vomit which had just come out of her mouth.
Although what has so far been described in this article is sickening in itself – in terms of the sheer psychological and physical trauma that was caused – what Kate had experienced up until that point was merely the foundation in the course of abuse that she would experience during her stay at Nazareth House.
Escorted by one of the nuns, Kate was brought to a local priest to engage in the Catholic practice of confessions. Informing her that confession was unnecessary because she had been a “good girl”, the priest withheld his usual order of a few Hail Mary’s, instead encouraging Kate to become the subject of his sexual gratification. Under what appeared to her as a throne-like chair, the the 8-year old girl was subjected to a myriad of depraved sexual acts; and due to the anal penetration which her ordeal culminated in, Kate noted how that evening’s bath was even more awful than usual.
Encapsulating the sick mentality of many Church activists in Derry during the 1970s and 80s, the priest determined the price of her ordeal to be a simple mint sweet.
The Catholic Church, through its web of “divinely called” staff, has subjected an unknown (but undoubtedly huge) number of Irish people to torment that was arguably worse than death. And yet, the same institution, perhaps in testament to the superlative control it once enjoyed over Irish society, has miraculously managed to remain a significant social influence.
Despite reducing people like Kate Walmsey to emotional rubble, the Church continues to have fairly well-attended buildings dotted throughout the island, and as well as the weekly contributions of mass-goers, it is guaranteed financial immortality by the economic powerhouse that it is the Vatican.
Kate Walmsley, in a manner that was reminiscent of an afraid little girl, couldn’t make eye contact when speaking with Stephen Nolan about her tragic story. But as the outpouring of admiration online clearly shows, the process of truth she is nobly pursuing is something she should hold her head high about – because she has survived a degree of evil that most people would struggle to just conceive.
As somebody that was baptized a Catholic, I strongly feel that the Church should provide the compensatory figure determined by the representatives of victims like Kate Walmsey; and set about devising an elaborate and sincere apology for the destruction of lives that otherwise… were only just beginning.
Considering that any secular institution responsible for such widespread and untreated child abuse would be facing the prospect of actual liquidation; massive compensation – particularly considering the Vatican Empire is very possibly the wealthiest institution in the world – is something the Church should have absolutely no hesitance about agreeing to.
By failing to do so, the Church in Ireland is simply guilty of a nauseating degree of tenacity – and should be scrutinized accordingly by government and society.
In the absence of far-reaching attempts by the Catholic leadership to pay (and express tangible remorse) for the evil inflicted by an entire generation of priests and nuns on Irish society, the only Word I imagine myself presently hearing in the hall of an Irish Church is that of a crying child.
In future, as Kate Walmsey’s story captures, such cries cannot go unheard.
Darren Litter | Image: (no alterations)