Tag Archives: Poor Sisters of Nazareth

How Low Can the Catholic Church Go?



With a long history of crimes against humanity, Garry Otton wonders if there is any limit to how much Catholic adherents will put up with. 

As much as Scotland’s fourth estate might try to paper over the cracks with whatever the Scottish Catholic Media Office might throw at it, there are no escaping calls from the Scottish Secular Society for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the Vatican State to face charges for Crimes Against Humanity in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Prior to Herr Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedict XVI) ‘state’ visit to Scotland – at considerable cost to taxpayers, involving the raiding of funds set aside for overseas aid and coinciding with news of 13 suicides of former victims of priestly abuse in Belgium – former Cardinal Keith O’Brien was pictured in the press laughing, smiling and saying that he would be “happy” if the Pope didn’t apologise for the child abuse. Apparently, there wasn’t very much in Scotland anyway. Oh, really? That was before victims of Fort Augustus Abbey School announced they were launching a lawsuit for compensation for the abuse they suffered at the hands of monks.

Homosexuals; the sixties; ephebophiles, a greater prevalence of incidences in other institutions and secularism have all been trotted out as excuses and deflections for the rot within the Church. Catholic apologists continue to do what they can to lay the blame at someone else’s door. Can they afford to do so any longer following a damning report from the United Nation’s?

Scotland should not forget the allegations against the Poor Sisters of Nazareth filed in the High Court in Aberdeen against Sister Alphonso, alias Marie Docherty. Former children from the orphanage lined up to provide testimonies of daily beatings, sexual abuse from visiting priests, the force-feeding of a little girl with her own vomit, the wrapping of bed-wetters in their urine-soaked sheets, the forcing of a wee girl into a cold bath in the middle of an epileptic fit which Sister Alphonso was supposed to have described as “the work of the devil”, lads being dropped into scalding baths and the ‘cleansing’ of menstruating girls by immersing them in baths filled with Jeyes disinfectant. One woman claimed Sister Alphonso had dragged her by her hair and beat it against a wall so hard it broke her front teeth leaving only the stumps. Helen Cuister told a court that when she began menstruating, Sister Alphonso told her that it was ‘God’s punishment’ for girls who did not behave and that her punishment would go on until midnight when she would die for being so dirty. Louise Clark told the same court how she had been beaten mercilessly simply for not attending church. In defence, Sister Alphonso told the court how, as a child she had pulled down her knickers and asked her father to hit her and, when as a sister in the Aberdeen home, she had given the girls a good talking to after she caught them watching forbidden TV programme, ‘Top of the Pops’. The church stood by Sister Alphonso. A Scottish Catholic Church source told the press: “The view within the church is that she deserves sympathy, not more punishment. The church will rally round her.” And it did. The Catholic Church appointed a team of leading lawyers, including former Solicitor General Paul Cullen, QC and the Rt Rev Mario Conti, the Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, later the Archbishop of Glasgow, who stepped in as chief apologist, explaining: “Some practices which, today seem excessive and even cruel, would not have been viewed in this light years ago. These convictions do not, moreover, invalidate the great good, which was done by the Sisters of Nazareth, including Sister Marie, in caring competently and appropriately for many thousands of children over the last 100 years”. Still dressed in her nun’s habit, Marie Docherty was found guilty of just four counts of cruelty and unnatural practices. Former care assistant Helen Howie, 75 was angry that she was not called as a witness. “She has made all these children out to be liars”, she was reported saying, “but everything they said was true. A couple of times when my husband came to collect me from his work he had to pull her off to stop her beating the children. I called him many a time to take her away from the children”. Docherty’s age, state of health, lack of previous convictions and the time that had passed since the crimes took place were all taken into consideration. After whispering a polite ‘thank you’ to Sheriff Colin Harris, Marie Theresa Docherty was free to walk away.


But there was also the allegations a decade ago by 11 former pupils in the Court of Session in Edinburgh who claimed to have been brutalised by an order of Catholic monks. Their solicitor, Cameron Fyfe claimed he was handling the biggest abuse case Scotland had ever seen. Allegations from former pupils of St Ninian’s List D School in Gartmore, Stirlingshire described electric shocks administered from a device described as a type of generator kept in a boot room where boys had to hold on to a pair of wires leading from the machine. Central Scotland Police were involved in compiling a report for the Procurator Fiscal that also included complaints of regular thrashings, being forced to eat vomit, sexual fondling and serious physical abuse.

The Big Issue in Scotland at the time reported a particularly harrowing tale by resident John McCorry of the behaviour of the nuns from the Smyllum Park Orphanage near Lanark. “They warped our sexualities. We were told that the toilet – and even using the word toilet – was evil. We couldn’t refer to any part of our body between the neck and knees as anything other than ‘our front’. But as a result kids would get beaten for talking about their fronts. We would get beaten for asking to go to the toilet. It was institutionalised insanity… Boys who wet the bed were beaten all the time… They were forced to drink Epsom salts over and over again. But that ended up making them doubly incontinent. Most of the boys who suffered this ended up soiling themselves a few hours later. The most disgraceful thing I ever saw was one boy who was forced to walk up and down all day in the dining hall with his wet sheet under his arm. The sister who made him do this was shouting at us, saying, ‘Why aren’t you laughing at him?’ There was the sound of forced laughter everywhere. The boy was crying. It was sadistic, sick, mental torture”. The Catholic Church’s spokesman had his secretary explain to The Big Issue: “It’s nothing to do with us any longer”.

But this is just Scotland. Some of the crimes around the world committed in this religion’s name have been horrific. A few years ago in Brazil the Catholic Church was in a pitched battle with the State after a 9-year old girl was admitted to a hospital complaining of stomach pains. Doctors quickly determined that the child, a victim of rape, was pregnant with twins and that her undeveloped uterus did not have the ability to contain one foetus, let alone two. They prescribed an abortion in order to save the little girl’s life. That’s when the Catholic Church stepped in to try and stop it. Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, told journalists that God’s Law was above all human law and that anyone involved in or aiding the abortion would be subject to excommunication from the Church. And so they did.

I want to remind myself of the Catholic Church’s own rule about the Pope’s – the ‘successors of Peter’ – all being culpable. That must include the ones guilty of nepotism, murder, sexual debauchery and general depravity, none of whom the Church has officially condemned. There are the ones who took lovers, mistresses, girls or boys, married, had illegitimate children; housing and promoting their ‘nephews’. Many Pope’s had children. And Pope Julius III hardly made much of a secret about the teenage boy he picked up in the street. First he was his ‘monkey keeper’ and then he was made a Cardinal.

Then there is this Church’s historical hatred of Jews; passing laws that closed professions to them, locking them up in ghettos and forcing them to wear yellow identification. Read about the inquisitions, enforced conversions, slave trading and operations of torture and you are left either needing counselling or wondering what kind of twisted mind would ever want to associate itself with such a poisonous institution. The most obvious explanation has been ‘cognitive dissonance’.

And then there has been the gun-running, the financial wheeling and dealing, the laundering of illegal funds and the Magdalene laundries where women were incarcerated and kept as slaves. Then there has been the denial of rights to women and LGBT people, the latter including boys who were physically castrated in Dutch Catholic institutions in the sixties. Then there were the concordats with South American dictators; the deals with the Mafia (Pope Paul VI’s financial advisor, Sicilian tax lawyer, Michele Sindona recycled proceeds from Mafia heroin sales through the Vatican bank and helped the Vatican evade tax by transferring the bulk of its financial and investment assets overseas). And let’s never forget the Catholic Church’s administration of Nazi rat-runs. Oh, yes… You didn’t even need to be a Catholic to get Vatican help here: Just a Nazi. After the war, funded by Nazi gold, twenty Catholic agencies helped spirit away the likes of the commander of Treblinka, Franz Strangl who murdered 900,000 people; deputy commander of Sobibor, Gustav Wagner who murdered 250,000 Jews and Adolf Eichmann. One of the beneficiaries was most probably Dr Carl Vaernet who performed the most horrible experiments on Jewish homosexuals in the Buchanwald concentration camp in an attempt to cure homosexuals. All this before you get to the endless cases of sexual, physical and mental torture it put children through before the Vatican tried to cover it up, often blackmailing its victims into silence or moving priests to different areas where they could go on abusing more children.

The Catholic Church appears to be an institution that can get away with murder. Literally.

Garry Otton, 2014