Organised violence is a central feature of the Christian tradition, the Roman Catholic Church, the British Empire, and nations such as the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Historical abuses within lived memory in these cases are the product of long-term, inter-generational attitudes and practices of empire – patriarchy, racism, classism, and violence – that were, in part, influenced by and justified through Christian theology and institutions. In turn, Christian churches, religious orders, and charitable organisations were among the perpetrators involved in historical abuses, achieved through the theological, moral, political, and legal condemnation of the ‘other’. This chapter offers a genealogy that demonstrates repeated patterns of exclusion, violence, and justification involving Christianity and Western European states and their settler colonies. A genealogical approach reflects how regimes of power and knowledge are assembled and reproduced.Footnote 1 Section 2.2 examines the relationship between Christianity and historical justifications for violence, with a particular emphasis on colonisation and slavery. Section 2.3 identifies the emergence of closed institutions as a key tool of nation-building that consolidated this early relationship of Christianity and violence but also extends to within living memory. Section 2.4 examines the nature of the violent abuses committed in these contexts, and Section 2.5 concludes.
2.2 Christianity and Historical Violence
From early in its existence, the Christian tradition reflected both a theological world view of inclusion and practices of liberation, and an opposing manifestation that aligned with contemporary power structures and systems of violence.Footnote 2 Though early Christian communities were originally subjected to persecution as an emergent religion in the Roman Empire,Footnote 3 Christianity was made legal in 313 CE, and later became the official Roman imperial religion under the Emperor Constantine.Footnote 4 This imperial form of Christianity subverted the original message of Jesus Christ and of early Christian communities and offered the means to justify empire and warfare through Christian theology.Footnote 5 A succession of popes and papal Christianity, later the Roman Catholic Church, took explicitly imperial forms,Footnote 6 as the notion of Christendom, the union between Christianity and material power, was evident from the fourth century.Footnote 7
Even in this early period, Christian communities were aware of the risk of sexual abuse within the church, prohibiting sex between adult men and boys in the Council of Elvira in the fourth century.Footnote 8 After the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire in the sixth century, conversion to Christianity continued to be used to provide a religious justification for organised political violence among the communities of Europe,Footnote 9 for example in the missionary armed conflict of King Charles the Great (Charlemagne) against neighbouring Saxon peoples.Footnote 10 In later centuries, violent Christianity found articulation in the nine Crusades into the modern Middle East by European armies.Footnote 11 In 1095, Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade and declared that war was not only just but holy and incentivised participation for Christians through the removal of penance for sin for those who joined the Crusade, earning forgiveness for all their sins and assurance of a place in paradise after death.Footnote 12
A second link between Christianity and organised violence emerged in 1231, when Pope Gregory IX’s Inquisition licensed the church to use torture and execution to discipline those who were deemed heretics.Footnote 13 Approximately 3,250 people were executed by inquisitions between 1231 and 1730,Footnote 14 with a significant anti-Semitic targeting of Jews.Footnote 15 During this medieval period, there is further evidence of clerical sexual abuse of children,Footnote 16 with church law specifically prohibiting child sexual abuse.Footnote 17 A third early form of Christian violence was against women in trials for heresy and witchcraft,Footnote 18 often targeting women independent of patriarchal authority.Footnote 19 Estimates of women killed for witchcraft vary between 35,000 and 100,000.Footnote 20
The later fragmentation of European Christianity through the Protestant Reformation contributed to protracted religious and sectarian violence among European communities and kingdoms. The competition between successive popes, kings, and Holy Roman Emperors led to frequent conflict and violence and to the Thirty Years’ War.Footnote 21 Stephane Beaulac notes that while originally based on religious antagonism, these conflicts were eventually dominated by the power politics of belligerents.Footnote 22 The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 marks the beginning of Eurocentric conceptions of sovereign statehood in international affairs and the demise of supreme transnational and transcendental Christian institutions as the dominant force in Europe.Footnote 23 Despite the beginnings of the early Christian churches as sites of equality and care for the poor and needy, the relationship of Christianity with empire, monarchy, and power led to significant violence justified in the name of Christianity against those deemed ‘other’.Footnote 24 This pattern would repeat itself in imperial colonisation and transatlantic slavery, justified in part by the salvation of the soul of the ‘other’ and possession of their lands and culture for Christ. These processes, in turn, provide the context and structure for historical abuses within lived memory.
2.2.1 Empire and Colonialism
Empire and colonialism were justified on several political, economic, and moral grounds, including Christian theologies linked to a view of the end of time, eschatology.Footnote 25 Brooke and Parker suggest that ‘Columbus’ expedition of 1492 sought … to plunder the riches of the environs of paradise, to bring about the conversion of the “Indians,” and to precipitate a Crusade to Jerusalem, where history would culminate’.Footnote 26 In 1493, the papal bull Inter Caetera authorised and sanctified Columbus’ expedition, with this ‘doctrine of discovery’ functioning as both a theological affirmation of conquest and a political and military mediation between colonial settler powers.Footnote 27
The logic of inquisitions and Crusades framing the non-Christian as ‘other’ continued in colonisation. Across diverse processes of colonisation,Footnote 28 ‘non-Europeans were conceptualised by Europeans in ways that dehumanised them and represented their cultures or civilisations as inferior’.Footnote 29 Several concepts of inferiority were used to justify this subjugation of the other, often designating the non-Christian as unequal or subhuman.Footnote 30 These justifications for inferiority combined with existing patriarchal structures in European colonisers, suggesting particular inferiorities for non-Christian women.Footnote 31
In designating non-Europeans and their societies as ‘other’, several religious justifications were used for colonisation, alongside commercial and political justifications.Footnote 32 The Roman Catholic papacy granted Catholic kingdoms the right to colonise lands they ‘discovered’.Footnote 33 While English expansion took place by private actors such as the Virginia Company, it also included Christian motivations.Footnote 34 English claims to ‘discovered lands’ of now Australia, Canada, and the United States relied on whether the ‘discoverer’ was able to take possession of them.Footnote 35 This was despite the existence of systems of agriculture, housing, and ‘productive’ life among First Nations peoples.Footnote 36 Europeans claimed they were bringing salvation and civilisation to non-Christian peoples.Footnote 37 Martti Koskenniemi notes that while the majority of early Spanish theologians ‘agreed that the conquest had originally taken place in an unlawful manner, this did not lead them to advocate a speedy end to the presence of Spain in the New World’ but instead required them to ‘remain as trustees to protect the innocent and to preach the gospel’, with violence justified if the Indians persisted in human sacrifice or the harassment of priests.Footnote 38
The colonisation of the United States, Australia, and Canada can be understood as settler colonialism, with an ‘intention to permanently displace the Indigenous populations within their acquired territories’.Footnote 39 Patrick Wolfe notes that ‘settler colonialism has both negative and positive dimensions. Negatively, it strives for the dissolution of native societies. Positively, it erects a new colonial society on the expropriated land base … invasion is a structure not an event’.Footnote 40 The goals of settler colonialism to acquire land and gain control of resources were accomplished through direct acts of violence, the forced removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands, and biological and cultural forms of assimilation, such as inter-marriage and replacement of Indigenous culture with settler culture.Footnote 41 Settler colonialism also had deeply gendered consequences, seeing gender differentiation, and female domesticity and dependency, as marks of civilisation.Footnote 42 Across the national contexts affected by colonisation, a wide variety of harms are discussed below. Christianity was also used to justify the ‘second wave’ of nineteenth-century colonisation throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Asia through the use of ‘the standard of civilisation’.Footnote 43 Marimba Ani notes that for such colonisers ‘Christianity and civilization were inseparable’.Footnote 44 Regrettably, in-depth analysis of these forms of empire and colonisation is beyond the scope of this book. In considering the impact of colonialism, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission report concludes in terms that apply broadly:
The justification offered for colonialism – the need to bring Christianity and civilization to the Indigenous peoples of the world – may have been a sincerely held belief, but as a justification for intervening in the lives of other peoples, it does not stand up to legal, moral, or even logical scrutiny. The papacy had no authority to give away lands that belonged to Indigenous people. The Doctrine of Discovery cannot serve as the basis for a legitimate claim to the lands that were colonised, if for no other reason than that the so-called discovered lands were already well known to the Indigenous peoples who had inhabited them for thousands of years. The wars of conquest that took place to strip Indigenous peoples of their lands around the globe were not morally just wars; Indigenous peoples were not, as colonists often claimed, subhuman, and neither were they living in violation of any universally agreed-upon set of values. There was no moral imperative to impose Christianity on the Indigenous peoples of the world. They did not need to be ‘civilized’; indeed, there is no hierarchy of societies.Footnote 45
The justifications offered for colonisation and empire merged theology, commerce, law, and politics to create and impose dominant and oppressive narratives and practices, based on the false ‘othering’ of non-Christian peoples. In addition, Christianity also merged with commercial and imperial interests to legitimate the practice of slavery.
Slavery is one of the longest-standing forms of human violence, predating Christianity and found across a range of cultures and traditions.Footnote 46 The justification of the trade in slavery from Africa draws on the same logic and processes as the Crusades and colonisation processes,Footnote 47 through the perceived inferiority of enslaved peoples and through the perceived commission of sin by non-Christians.Footnote 48 Popes in the 1400s saw enslavement as an instrument for Christian conversion and endorsed the Portuguese shipment of African slaves back to Europe.Footnote 49 On 18 June 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the papal bull Dum Diversas, which identified Saracens (Muslims) and pagans as targetable for ‘perpetual slavery’.Footnote 50 The logic of settler colonialism, seeking to exploit land and resources and replace a native population, gave rise to the use of slavery as a means of achieving this.Footnote 51 Subsequently, the transatlantic slave trade populated colonies in the Americas. It is estimated that at least 12 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic,Footnote 52 with more killed in transit. The majority of slaves went to Brazil or the Caribbean, with approximately 300,000 captives coming to the now United States.Footnote 53 In addition, slavery also affected Native Americans. Allan Gallay estimates that between 1670 and 1715, 24,000 to 51,000 Native Americans were exported to then Spanish Florida and to the West Indies to work in sugar cane plantations.Footnote 54
Michelle Alexander notes that the concepts of race and white supremacy emerged in the American colonies ‘as a means of reconciling chattel slavery – as well as the extermination of American Indians – with the ideals of freedom preached by whites in the new colonies’.Footnote 55 She suggests that the planter class granted poor whites access to lands and roles policing slaves, which ‘effectively eliminated the risk of future alliances between black slaves and poor whites. Poor whites suddenly had a direct, personal stake in the existence of a race-based system of slavery’.Footnote 56 In addition, Alexander argues that Southern slaveholding colonies agreed to form a union, on the condition that the federal government would not interfere with their right to own slaves as property. As a result, the US Constitution constructed a federal government weak in its relationship to both private property and states’ rights and deliberately colour-blind.Footnote 57
While Christianity had been one of the bases for legitimating chattel slavery, the abolitionist role of non-institutional Christian churches and faith movements, such as Methodists and emergent evangelicalism, is notable, in contrast to more established state churches with greater links to the slave trade or slave ownership in the United Kingdom or the United States.Footnote 58 In ending the slave trade in England, reparations were provided to slave owners as compensation for loss of their property, to the cost of £20 million (the equivalent of £16,782 million in 2008).Footnote 59 In addition, Mark Noll views debates about slavery in the United States leading to the American Civil War as profoundly theological in nature,Footnote 60 with proponents on both sides of the war ‘reassuring combatants on either side that each enjoyed a unique standing before God and each exercised a unique role as the true bearer of the nation’s Christian civilization’.Footnote 61 In the absence of theological resolution to the question of slavery in the United States, violent civil war sought to resolve the issue of slavery by force and by law.
federal civil rights legislation was passed, including the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery; the Civil Rights Act of 1866, bestowing full citizenship upon African Americans; the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibiting states from denying citizens due process and ‘equal protection of the law’; the Fifteenth Amendment, providing that the right to vote should not be denied on account of race; and the Ku Klux Klan Acts, which declared interference with voting a federal offence and the violent infringement of civil rights a crime.Footnote 62
However, a lack of meaningful enforcement of federal rights rendered some of these protections ‘largely illusory – existing on paper but rarely to be found in real life’.Footnote 63 Instead, racism and discrimination were reproduced in forms beyond slavery. Southern states began a campaign to ‘redeem’ the South, weakening new legal protections in a context of renewed racial violence and a resurgent Ku Klux Klan,Footnote 64 resulting in the withdrawal of federal troops from the South and effective abandonment of African Americans. In this new system of racial social control, known as ‘Jim Crow’, Southern legislatures adopted ‘black codes’ designed to minimise the post-Civil War effect of emancipation by creating legal forms of racial segregation in transport and education.Footnote 65 These states adopted vagrancy laws, criminalising unemployment and targeted at blacks,Footnote 66 and eight of those states enacted convict laws, forcing prisoners to work for little or no pay for plantation owners and private companies.Footnote 67 Ira Katznelson notes that the Jim Crow South was indulged in early twentieth-century federal law making, such as the New Deal, which excluded farm workers and domestic servants from old age insurance, rendering 65 per cent of African Americans nationally and between 70 and 80 per cent in the South ineligible.Footnote 68 Alexander concludes that by the twentieth century, Southern states had a broad range of laws enabling discrimination against African Americans in every sphere of life.Footnote 69
Throughout these contexts of colonialism and slavery, we can find the use of Christianity in the name of violence, oppression, and domination and as a basis for resistance, emancipation, and liberation. As the secularisation of the Western world increased throughout the Enlightenment, scientific thinking and liberal politics grew in influence across the English-speaking world.Footnote 70 Nonetheless, closed and coercive institutions, involving a combination of states and churches, played a role in the construction and constitution of society and were key sites of more recent historical abuses within lived memory.
2.3 Institutions and Abuses
Closed state- and church-run institutions emerged to address people and groups perceived as ‘other’ and as social problems,Footnote 71 beginning with the poor, then extending to specific cross-sections of society. To understand this period, David Nash suggests we concentrate on how religion is used to justify world views and the role of specific actors within that context.Footnote 72 Shurlee Swain notes that both Anglican and Catholic denominations, ‘sanctioned a view that saw the poor as being responsible for their own fate’.Footnote 73
In Britain and Ireland, the Poor Laws started the process of institutionalisation.Footnote 74 The first Poor Law in 1531 enabled local authorities to round up child vagrants and beggars and put them to work in apprenticeships.Footnote 75 A 1647 Poor Act began the process of workhouses for the poor, which later involved the training of children for industry and trades while compulsorily detained.Footnote 76 The Poor Relief (Ireland) Act 1838 established a system of workhouses throughout the country.Footnote 77 Workhouses existed in the United Kingdom until 1948 when the National Assistance Act and the National Insurance Act 1946 ended the Poor Laws.
Ryan notes that at the end of the eighteenth century, the UK poor houses were criticised as too expensive, ineffective, and sites of disease and immorality.Footnote 78 Subsequent specialist institutions emerged for women and children.Footnote 79 Regarding children, the function of institutions such as industrial schools was to prevent the negative traits of the ‘other’ from passing into the next generation.Footnote 80 Regarding the institutionalisation of women, Carol Smart notes that while law had long sought to regulate women’s sexuality and reproduction, the nineteenth century marks ‘a specific moment of struggle over the use of law to regulate the feminine body’.Footnote 81 In addition to continuing religious justifications for problematising the ‘other’, De Groot suggests that in this period ‘theories and practices related to “race” and “sex” drew on biological, anthropological, and medical scholarship’.Footnote 82 Rather than exclusively pursuing strategies of elimination, as had been dominant with colonial conquest, the rise of institutions reflects a change in state and religious thinking in the potential for incarceration, coercion, and punishment as a form of personal transformation of those deemed ‘other’.Footnote 83
2.3.1 Residential Schools
Industrial schools were proposed as a solution to poverty in Britain and Ireland, based on a model adopted in Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia. Reformatory schools were established in 1858 for children found guilty of criminal offences under the British Poor Law. Jane Barnes states that industrial schools had two objectives: to train children ‘to be capable of supporting themselves by honest labour’ and to reform the child’s character away from a family’s bad influence.Footnote 84 The Children Act 1908 provided that each school was to be independently managed, though subject to state inspection and funding.Footnote 85 Brian Corby et al suggest that in the United Kingdom provision was made for 100,000 children in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries under this and related systems.Footnote 86 By 1911, there were 112 industrial schools operating in England and Wales, with a majority run by charitable and religious groups.Footnote 87 Industrial schools were abolished in the UK by 1933.Footnote 88 In the UK, inquiries in the 1940s emphasised the lack of coordination and monitoring between the numerous bodies which shared responsibility for the welfare of children in the care of the state,Footnote 89 but also a failure to respond to allegations of abuse and cruelty. Scotland was distinctive for its use of day industrial schools or ‘ragged schools’, which aimed at reforming children who had not already committed crimes.Footnote 90 By the early twentieth century, the forty-eight reformatories and industrial schools in Scotland were dealing with nearly 7,000 girls and boys.Footnote 91 After the creation of Northern Ireland in 1922 with the partition of Ireland, there were only five industrial or reformatory schools still operational.Footnote 92
Industrial schools were established in Ireland under the Industrial Schools Act 1868.Footnote 93 Over the recorded period from 1936 to 1970, a total of 37,000 children and young persons entered Irish industrial schools.Footnote 94 The majority were operated by religious orders of the Catholic Church, with the state paying a stipend to the orders per child housed. A 1970 report recommended the closure of the residential school system, concluding that its rules and regulations did not conform to modern standards of childcare.Footnote 95 In Ireland, industrial and reformatory schools ensured ‘the Irish Catholic’s ability to morally herd the Irish people, while the state sought to protect itself from social unrest at poverty and the derision of foreigners, especially the formerly colonial power Britain’.Footnote 96 Buckley and McGregor note that the industrial and reformatory schools reflect the high degree of trust between the Irish state and Catholic Church. In 1939, the state removed the policy of inspecting children in industrial schools placed from statutory care ‘on the basis that the job the religious were doing on behalf of the State was such that it did not require such supervision and inspection’.Footnote 97
During the 1860s–1870s, Australia introduced industrial and reformatory schoolsFootnote 98 but met resistance, due to the perceived stigma of poverty.Footnote 99 Instead, local legislatures had to make alternative provision for the poor and especially for children.Footnote 100 The early shift from boarding schools to a ‘boarding out’ model of housing children with foster families differentiates Australia from other jurisdictionsFootnote 101 but also resulted in significant abuse for Australian children in care. It is estimated that at least 500,000 children experienced life in this out-of-home ‘care’ system.Footnote 102
In Canada, residential schools were first established by religious organisations as part of their missionary work to both ‘civilize’ and ‘Christianize’ Indigenous children.Footnote 103 From 1874 until 1969, residential schools were operated in Canada jointly by Christian organisations and government.Footnote 104 Roughly 150,000 children were taken from their families and placed in residential schools.Footnote 105 The residential school system operated with few regulations under the Indian Act from 1894, which were weakly enforced.Footnote 106 Canadian residential schools represented a colonial attempt to assimilate self-governing peoples and their national identity, by transforming their bodies, ways, and knowledge with those of the settler majority.Footnote 107 The Canadian government took direct control over all the schools in 1970 and began their closure.Footnote 108
In the United States, residential schools emerged in the seventeenth century, separating Native children from their communities to receive ‘Christian civilising instruction’.Footnote 109 Residential schools became formal federal policy in 1869, forcing more than 100,000 Native children to attend schools operated by Christian denominations and religious orders. The stated rationale of this policy, as in Canada, was to ‘kill the Indian, save the man’.Footnote 110 The schools were intended to train Native boys for manual labour and girls for domestic work, reinforcing white patriarchal structures and resulting in a loss of female leadership in Native communities.Footnote 111 Across these jurisdictions, the desire to transform the character of children in residential schools was predicated on a belief in their inferior nature, as Ferguson describes their status as ‘moral dirt’.Footnote 112 This form of othering is also evident in institutions designed to condemn and reform women.
2.3.2 Magdalene Laundries
A second closed institution operated by religious orders were Magdalene Laundries, the first was established in 1758 in England.Footnote 113 The claimed purposes of the Laundries were to house ‘fallen women’ and oblige them to engage in unpaid labour as penance and in repayment for sanctuary.Footnote 114 According to contemporary accounts, in England by 1898 ‘there were more than 300 Magdalene institutions, collectively housing 6,000 inmates and employing at least 1,200 full time Rescue staff’.Footnote 115 Comprehensive historical figures are not yet gathered for Laundries in England. In Northern Ireland, Laundries operated from 1867 until 1984, housing approximately 3,000 inmates.Footnote 116 For Linda Mahood, in Scotland, the ‘carceral regimes deployed by these Magdalene asylums were based on both class and gender ideology’, targeting young working-class women.Footnote 117
The Magdalen Laundries operated in Ireland between 1795 and 1996. Ten thousand and twelve women are known to have been detained in a Magdalen Laundries from 1922 until 1996, though victim-survivor groups contest these figures.Footnote 118 James Smith asserts, ‘In a society where even the faintest whiff of scandal threatened the respectability of the normative Irish family, the Magdalen asylum existed as a place to contain and punish the threatening embodiment of instability’.Footnote 119 In Australia, James Franklin notes the operation of eight Magdalene Laundries between 1890 and the 1960s for ‘fallen women’ who were placed in the convent, ‘voluntarily or involuntarily, for reasons such as being destitute, uncontrollable, picked up by the police, and similar’.Footnote 120 In the United States, Magdalene Laundries were established in the 1840s, with approximately thirty-five institutions established by 1900.Footnote 121 Magdalene Laundries also operated in Canada from 1820, where women were obliged to engage in unpaid labour,Footnote 122 but have not been significantly investigated.
2.3.3 Maternity Homes
From the beginning of the Poor Laws, unmarried mothers and their children were considered to be a serious problem for both the management and finances of workhouses and similar institutions.Footnote 123 In response, specialist institutions for unmarried mothers developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from voluntary, mainly religious, organisations.Footnote 124 In 1871, Female Mission to the Fallen opened the first mother and baby home in the United Kingdom.Footnote 125 Contemporary accounts of these homes and adoption societies were critical in that they were profit making, while claiming to be philanthropic.Footnote 126 It is not until 1939 and high rates of births outside marriage during World War II that national lists of mother and baby homes were compiled. A 1949 directory contained 159 homes in England and Wales.Footnote 127 In Northern Ireland, it is estimated that between 1922 and 1990 over 10,500 women entered mother and baby homes, with an undocumented number of single mothers entering workhouses.Footnote 128
In the United States, maternity homes stigmatised pregnant young women by removing them from their families, friends, and neighbours but predominantly affected middle-class white American women and girls, who were framed as psychologically neurotic for becoming pregnant outside marriage.Footnote 129 By 1972 there were 201 maternity homes in the United States, responding to a 177 per cent increase in recorded pregnancy outside marriage from 1940.Footnote 130 Rickie Solinger suggests there was greater acceptance of an unmarried mother in African American communities but also that maternity homes often had a white-only entrance policy.Footnote 131
In Canada, from the 1880s maternity homes ‘accepted money for the upkeep of an unwed mother’s infant and promised to find adoptive homes for such children.’Footnote 132 Advocacy organisations have documented that at least sixty-six maternity homes operated.Footnote 133 Murray notes the operators of such homes perceived themselves as building the Canadian nation by ensuring that future male leaders ‘would not be “ruined” by fallen sisters “dragging” them “down to the damnable abyss”’.Footnote 134 In addition, religious orders also sought to maintain the homogeneity of their own faiths.Footnote 135 Approximately 300,000 unmarried mothers in Canada were systematically separated from their babies at birth for adoption.Footnote 136 In the 1960s, the ‘sixties scoop’ meant that Aboriginal children were ‘apprehended in disproportionate numbers throughout Canada and adopted primarily into non-Aboriginal homes in Canada, the United States, and overseas’.Footnote 137 This process of disproportionate adoption reflects the closing of the residential schools in Canada but the continuance of attempts to shape Aboriginal child welfare.Footnote 138
In Ireland, in the early 1920s, the state and religious orders established several mother and baby homes to address a perceived moral crisis involving unmarried mothers, who were framed as both sinners and damaging to the reputation of the newly independent state.Footnote 139 According to the 2021 Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report, there were about 56,000 unmarried mothers and about 57,000 children in the mother and baby homes and county homes investigated by the Commission.Footnote 140 A total of about 9,000 (15 per cent of all) children died in the institutions under investigation. In Australia, diverse institutions for child welfare operated, including orphanages, asylums, and maternity homes, which have been documented as abusive by women formerly resident there.Footnote 141 A significant practice of ‘boarding out’ children to foster homes also persisted in Australia.Footnote 142 Swain and Howe argue: ‘The objective of protecting the child while punishing the mother became the central concern of public policy in relation to single mothers’,Footnote 143 which led to a significant practice of forced adoptions, discussed below.
2.4 Histories of Abuses
In addition to entire classes and nations of peoples, women and children were particularly marginalised by social attitudes and institutionalisation through intersectional forms of harm and discrimination, affecting especially poor, black, mixed race, or Indigenous women and children. In a context of prior inter-generational harms, such as colonisation and slavery, institutionalisation not only occurred with the support of governments, churches, and families, socialised by contemporary religious attitudes and teaching, but also formed part of criminal justice, health, and welfare systems. When combined with persistent criminal behaviour by religious actors outside of institutional contexts, especially clerical child sexual abuse, a picture of widespread and systemic harms against members of these societies from state and church officials emerges. Harm, especially sexual violence, is always under-reported and difficult to estimate. This is doubly true regarding historical abuses, where the passage of time and degradation of evidence make it difficult now to reach accurate estimates about the number of victims-survivors and perpetrators involved.Footnote 144 The harms listed below should be understood as provisional and likely under-reported.
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.Footnote 145
The label genocide remains highly controversial in its application to the United States, Canada, and Australia,Footnote 146 due in part to the retroactive application of this legal concept and the effect of alleging genocide in challenging national myths and identities.Footnote 147 Russell Thornton estimates the total Indigenous American population to be 5 million before 1492, falling to 250,000 towards the end of the nineteenth century,Footnote 148 though the nature and extent of genocidal killings, with the intention and not merely the consequence of destroying specific groups, remain highly contentious.Footnote 149 David Stannard suggests ‘disease and genocide were interdependent forces, acting dynamically’.Footnote 150 Some examples exist of clear genocidal intent. In the nineteenth century, the discovery of gold in California led to a significant inward migration of settlers that devastated the Indigenous population, which at that time was estimated to have numbered approximately 150,000. Fewer than thirty years later, that population was reduced to fewer than 30,000.Footnote 151 A California state fund was created to pay per head or scalp of each Native American person exterminated.Footnote 152
In addition to the military conquest of land, settler colonialism across the United States, Canada, and Australia demonstrates several practices that could be deemed genocidal in nature, or, at a minimum, have genocidal consequences, such as sexual violence. In addition, several forms of assimilation and the construction of citizenship and equality legislation can be seen to have destructive effects on the sovereign nature and identity of First Nations and Native peoples. In the United States, the Indian Citizenship Act 1924 declared all Indian peoples ‘born within the territorial limits of the United States’ to be US citizens and not primarily members of their tribal nation.
In Australia, two practices against Aboriginal peoples have been suggested as genocidal: killings in the process of land seizure and dispossession, and the twentieth-century policies of institutionalisation and child removal that ‘developed as settler governments attempted to control surviving Indigenous populations’.Footnote 153 Colin Tatz maintains that the violent extermination of First Peoples in Australia reduced a population of at least 250,000 at first contact in 1788 to 30,000 by 1911.Footnote 154 The Australian Bringing Them Home report concluded that child removal from Indigenous families constituted genocide; that mixed motives did not abrogate the required intention for genocide; and that removal policies continued well after 1946 when genocide became a crime under international law. One in ten, possibly as many as one in three, Indigenous children were removed from their families and communities between 1910 and the 1970s.Footnote 155
In Canada, over 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in residential schools, which the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) termed ‘cultural genocide’.Footnote 156 Bonita Lawrence describes assimilationist strategies which limited the status of Indigenous peoples to those who married within their own people, ‘statistical genocide’, with over 25,000 women having lost status between 1876 and 1985; anywhere from 1 to 2 million of their descendants are now incapable of asserting any legally recognised Indigenous identity in Canada.Footnote 157 A 2019 report concluded that contemporary violence being perpetrated against First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women and girls ‘amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous peoples’.Footnote 158 Accusations of genocide have been resisted in the United States, Canada, and Australia and offer a challenging alternative to positive national histories, identities, and myths.Footnote 159 In the face of such resistance, Larissa Behrendt insists: ‘the political posturing and semantic debates do nothing to dispel the feeling Indigenous people have that this is the word that adequately describes our experience as colonized people’.Footnote 160
2.4.2 Physical, Sexual, and Psychological Violence
Physical and sexual violence are a central element of historical abuses considered in this book. Evidence of sexual abuse, including child sexual abuse, in Christian churches has a long history,Footnote 161 in both institutional and non-institutional settings. Doyle, Sipe and Wall conclude: ‘sexual abuse of minors and adults by Catholic clergy has continued without interruption from the post-Apostolic period to present’.Footnote 162 Child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests has occurred in Ireland, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia in significant numbers, both in institutional settings and in the dioceses and parishes of the Catholic Church. When perpetrated against Indigenous peoples in the context of broader assimilationist strategies, such violence can assume a genocidal character.Footnote 163
In the United States, within the Roman Catholic Church, initial reports disclosed a total of 17,259 reported cases with 4,392 priests accused of abuse between 1950 and 2002.Footnote 164 One estimate suggests that there may be 100,000 total victims of child sexual abuse arising in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States alone.Footnote 165 Andrea Smith also alleges rampant sexual abuse in Indian boarding schools,Footnote 166 though in the absence of nationwide inquiries it is difficult to ascertain the appropriate figure.
Sexual violence also forms part of the legacy of violence inherent in slavery and racism in the United States,Footnote 167 especially in a context where black women’s bodies, and any children resulting from rape and sexual assault, were deemed property.Footnote 168 Patricia Hill Collins notes that perversely after emancipation when enslaved women were no longer property, they were vulnerable to even more rapes: ‘No longer the property of a few White men, African American women [and girls] became sexually available to all White men’.Footnote 169
Sexual violence intersects with other forms of racist violence, especially lynching. Racist perceptions of the threat of sexual violence posed by black men to white women were often the basis for lynching of black men,Footnote 170 who were frequently sodomised or castrated as part of the lynching violence.Footnote 171 Lynching, being premeditated extrajudicial killing, emerged as a particular form of political and racial violence in the post-Reconstruction United States.Footnote 172 Lynchings were often public and mass events in which dozens or hundreds would participate,Footnote 173 often on the supposed basis of an allegation of murder or rape by the victim.Footnote 174 Estimates indicate at least 4,000 racially motivated lynchings between 1877 and 1950.Footnote 175 Sherrilyn Ifill notes the economic dimensions of lynching amid agriculture on large plantations ‘lynching helped ensure the maintenance of a compliant and available workforce, without which the traditional agrarian southern economy could not function for the benefit of whites’.Footnote 176 James Cone sees the legacy of lynching as a key element of understanding the structural violence of racism in Christian terms: ‘every time a white mob lynched a black person, they lynched Jesus. The lynching tree is the cross in America’.Footnote 177
In Canada, at least 37,951 claims have been received for injuries resulting from physical and sexual abuse at residential schools,Footnote 178 likely only a portion of the full harms experienced. Although the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation noted the widespread nature of sexual abuse in residential schools against Aboriginal children,Footnote 179 in the absence of a nationwide inquiry into clerical abuse it is impossible to estimate the scale of sexual violence both in and out of institutions. Physical abuse and sexual abuse often were intertwined.Footnote 180 In 2019, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) was unable to provide comprehensive figures of the number of priests credibly accused of child sex abuse since 1950, noting that its conference did not gather nationwide statistics.Footnote 181
In Australia, sexual violence has long been a pervasive form of harm, both in and beyond institutional contexts.Footnote 182 However, as in other jurisdictions, prosecutions for child abuse in the context of institutions remained challenging. A 2017 report heard from almost 8,000 survivors of abuse alleging abuse in over 3,400 institutions,Footnote 183 with over 1,800 alleged perpetrators in religious settings in claims of child sexual abuse,Footnote 184 and 7,382 survivors alleging abuse in religious settings.Footnote 185
In Ireland, commissions of inquiry revealed that sexual abuse was ‘endemic’ in religious institutions throughout the country, with more than 1,000 former pupils testifying with allegations of physical and sexual abuse.Footnote 186 Between 1975 and 2014, there were 4,406 allegations of child sexual abuse by priests reported to church authorities and Gardai.Footnote 187 In the United Kingdom, at the time of writing, the nature and extent of historical child abuse in England and Wales, and in Scotland, remain subject to ongoing inquiries. In Northern Ireland, the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI) found systemic failings in the majority of residential institutions for children it investigated, with evidence of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse; neglect; and unacceptable practices across the institutions and homes examined.Footnote 188 Across these jurisdictions, it has also been shown that religious superiors knew about allegations of sexual abuse and made efforts to cover up the abuse or transfer abusers to avoid scandal.Footnote 189 While child sexual abuse crises have gathered significant national and international attention, it is important to position such abuse in the context of broader systems of violence and oppression of those deemed ‘other’, both in and beyond institutional contexts.
2.4.3 Theft of Land and Property
The conquest and occupation of Indigenous land is key to the structure of settler colonialism as an ongoing event, affecting the territories known as the United States, Canada, and Australia today. Settling forces removed Native peoples from lands they sought to occupy, through treaties, violence, and economic coercion. Western attitudes to sovereignty and early international law ignored the sovereignty and laws of Indigenous peoples and First Nations,Footnote 190 to expropriate and take land without effective consent. Walter Hixson notes that ‘Euro-Americans employed the law as a means of disavowing the colonizing act. In some cases Indians legitimately sold land. Other times speculators and officials cheated them out of land, sometimes in collusion with their own “chiefs” or other tribes’.Footnote 191
From the 1600s on, the territories of Indigenous tribes in North America were invaded by the English, Spanish, and French and, later, by the Americans. Kent McNeil notes that the loss of the lands of First Nations peoples was gradual and that it was not until 1870 to 1890 that ‘the asserted territorial sovereignty of these states became a reality on the ground’.Footnote 192 In the United States, the Indigenous Reservation system began in 1763 with the Royal Proclamation set by Great Britain.Footnote 193 Between 1778 and 1871, the US Senate ratified 370 Indian treaties.Footnote 194 The 1830 Indian Removal Act systematised a federal policy forcibly moving Native peoples away from settler-populated areas.Footnote 195 Glenn notes: ‘Through treaty, these tribes were prevailed upon to cede their traditional lands in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in exchange for land west of the Mississippi’.Footnote 196 This led to the forced migration of five tribes from traditional lands in the Southern United States to Oklahoma, in what is known as ‘the Trail of Tears’,Footnote 197 leading to a forced march of the Cherokee peoples to the West and the death of at least 4,000 Cherokees from hunger, cold, and disease.Footnote 198
In 1851, Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act creating Indian reservations in Oklahoma.Footnote 199 The 1871 Indian Appropriation Act removed constitutional recognition of tribes as sovereign nations. In the 1880s, federal Indian policy adopted the goal of assimilation or ‘Americanisation’ to be achieved through education of Indian children in residential schools, as discussed above, and through land allotment, intended to break up tribal governments, abolish the reservations, and assimilate Indians into non-Indian society as farmers.Footnote 200 Charles Geisler suggests that ‘Indians in America lost their land through coercion muted by market-like negotiations on some occasions and coercion without pretense on others’.Footnote 201 Glenn notes that ‘before the start of allotment, Indians owned 138 million acres; that amount was reduced to 54 million acres by 1934 when the allotment program was terminated’.Footnote 202 The theft of land also affected African Americans, who were excluded from the Homestead acts.Footnote 203 A 2001 investigation into the theft of black-owned land stretching back to the pre-Civil War period documented some 406 victims and 24,000 acres of land valued at tens of millions of dollars. The land was taken through various means from legal pressure to violence.Footnote 204 Richard Rothstein has recently argued that racial segregation of land and housing has persisted throughout America through active policies of government at local, state, and federal levels.Footnote 205
In Canada, jurisdiction over ‘Indians and Lands reserved for the Indians’ was assigned to the Parliament of Canada through the Constitution Act 1867. Canada promised Britain to honour the provisions of the 1763 Proclamation to ‘negotiate with its Amerindians for the extinguishment of their title and the setting aside of reserves for their exclusive use’. This promise led to several numbered treaties.Footnote 206 Subsequent government practice under the 1876 Indian Act asserted further control over Indigenous people and their sovereignty. The Canadian TRC concluded that the Government of Canada’s failure to honour the original intent of treaty relationships, as well as the ‘destructive impacts of residential schools, [and] the 1876 Indian Act’, have resulted in the broken trust among Indigenous people and Canadians.Footnote 207
In Australia, in 1788, the First Nations possessed the entire continent. Then during a prolonged period of land grab from 1788 to the late 1960s Indigenous peoples were dispossessed.Footnote 208 Aileen Moreton-Robinson argues that settler states viewed dispossession as inherently legal based on the idea of terra nullius: ‘Indigenous people did not have a concept of ownership, which means that we had no sovereignty to defend. Thus there was no theft, no war, and no need to have a treaty’.Footnote 209 The dispossession of land is central to the harms experienced and reproduced against Indigenous peoples in settler colonies. As we will see in subsequent chapters, although states are willing to acknowledge and seek to remedy other more discrete harms, the return of lands to Indigenous peoples remains deeply challenging.
2.4.4 Slavery and Unpaid Labour
Slavery and subsequent practices of discrimination and mass incarceration of African Americans in the United States are discussed above. In Australia, unpaid labour was central to the establishment of Indigenous camps on land occupied by European conquest.Footnote 210 Domestic labour was promoted as a means by which to civilise and assimilate Indigenous girls into lower social classes.Footnote 211 State and church officials framed the exploitation of the labour of children to build religious buildings as training and education.Footnote 212 Unpaid labour was also a feature of life in workhouses in Ireland and the United Kingdom,Footnote 213 and latterly in industrial schools.Footnote 214 Unpaid labour was framed as penance for moral wrongdoing in Magdalene Laundries and maternity homes.Footnote 215 In Canada, in residential schools, parents and inspectors raised concerns about just how much work Indigenous students were being required to do.Footnote 216 The exploitation of labour across diverse national contexts demonstrates the links between historical abuses and the modern-day distribution of wealth and economic structures.
2.4.5 Forced Child Removal
Adoption and child migration were used to create a new family by seeking the destruction of another, an exchange that increased the number of ‘respectable’ citizens while cleansing the country of others. In the nineteenth century, child migration began to be seen in the United Kingdom as a means of reducing the financial demands of the poor, meeting ‘labour needs of underpopulated colonies’, and benefitting child migrants themselves.Footnote 217 Gordon Lynch suggests that churches and charities cultivated a sense that child migration was a moral necessity to keep children within their own religious tradition.Footnote 218
Several policies were enacted in the United States, Canada, and Australia to remove children of the poor and Indigenous children from their families and communities, to ensure they became ‘“civilized” and Christianised’.Footnote 219 In the United States, urban growth and immigration placed children in poor families at significant risk of hunger, disease, and poor housing in a context of a need to populate the American West and further assimilate migrants.Footnote 220 ‘Orphan trains’ organised placement of upwards of 200,000 urban poor children from the east of the United States within religious communities in the Western United States.Footnote 221 Starting in the 1880s, Indian child removal combined with placement in boarding schools to limit the influence of Indian mothers and to assimilate the child,Footnote 222 with as many as 25–35 per cent of all Indian children forcibly removed, mostly from extended family networks, and placed in predominately non-Indian homes, which had no relation to American Indian cultures.Footnote 223 Between 1900 and the 1970s, one-third of all Indigenous children born had been adopted into non-Indigenous families.Footnote 224 Rickie Solinger notes that it is especially post-World War II that US policymakers began to enact specific policies to separate mother and child where a mother was deemed morally problematic for being poor, pregnant, and unmarried.Footnote 225 Across the United States, it is estimated that a million and a half babies were adopted between 1945 and 1973.Footnote 226
In Australia, the first child removal legislation introduced in the 1840s related to Indigenous children.Footnote 227 Missionaries believed that by direct instruction of Aboriginal children, the children would ‘appreciate not only the benefits of civilisation, but the higher advantages of Christianity’.Footnote 228 Swain notes the progressive strengthening of the child removal powers can be understood within the context of growing concern about the racial composition of the nation.Footnote 229 The Aborigines Protection Act 1909 enabled the removal of children without their parents’ consent if they were found by a magistrate to be ‘neglected’, which included children having ‘no visible means of support or fixed place of abode’.Footnote 230 Adoption was a radical process enabling the erasure of a child’s identity.Footnote 231 In this context, children were placed in church-affiliated institutions, where they were removed from and often had no further contact with their identity, families, and culture.Footnote 232 As noted above, the forced removal from Indigenous families, the Stolen Generations, affected between one in ten and one in three Indigenous children. Child migration of foreign white children became an explicit policy of the Australian government as part of its White Australia policy.Footnote 233 The 1922 Empire Settlement Act in the United Kingdom funded this child migration scheme. However, after their arrival in Australia, no authority monitored the children.Footnote 234 UK child migration schemes continued until 1970.Footnote 235 6,500–7,000 unaccompanied child migrants were sent from the UK to Australia alone between 1912 and 1970.Footnote 236
In Canada, approximately 90,000 unaccompanied children were transported from the United Kingdom from 1869 until the early twentieth century.Footnote 237 Lynch notes that throughout the nineteenth century ‘the organisational structures through which child migration from Britain to Canada operated were diffuse, made up of competing and complementary relationships between state welfare providers, philanthropists, civic leaders, donors and churches’.Footnote 238 In addition, domestic adoptions in Canada were significant in the twentieth century. Some 600,000 Canadian babies were labelled ‘illegitimate’ between 1945 and 1971, and it is estimated that between 300,000 and 450,000 babies were given up for forced adoption during this period.Footnote 239
In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that at least 500,000 women were affected by forced adoption practices in the twentieth centuryFootnote 240 but only recently did this become subject to official investigation.Footnote 241 Adoption was unregulated in Ireland, until the Adoption Act 1952. Natural mothers have strongly disputed the voluntary nature of the consent given to these arrangements even after 1952.Footnote 242 Mike Milotte argues that successive Irish governments were aware of a substantial, lucrative but entirely illegal trade in Irish children through illegal adoption and that both church and state supported the process in part as a mechanism to avoid the adoption of children into Protestant homes and to retain the Catholic faith of adopted children,Footnote 243 with allegations of up to 15,000 illegal adoptions nationally.Footnote 244 For many children, migration or adoption constituted a painful loss of relationships with family friends and community, compounded by neglect in new homes and institutions.Footnote 245 For some children, these forms of harm were compounded by experiences of physical and sexual violence and exploitation of their labour, as discussed above.
Amid other social, political, and economic forces, Christianity and churches were intimately involved in the social cultural and political development of Western Europe and the Global North but also in the justification of violence, conflict, and marginalisation of those deemed ‘other’, inferior, or morally problematic: non-Christians, non-whites, the poor, with a particular emphasis on women and children. Christianity framed and amplified historical abuses and their justifications to existential, eternal dimensions. It is in this context of inter-generational and widespread forms of violence that we can place closed institutions that operated until within living memory. The continuation of ideas that gave rise to historical abuses and the material aftermath of these harms continue to shape and inform the countries and churches examined in this book. If these cycles are not broken, justice for historical abuses will not be attained, and these countries and churches may reproduce fresh instances of exclusion, othering and violence, even as they attempt to do justice to the past.