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The Word on the Week

Christine Buckley

When Christine was 3 weeks old she was placed in the first of a number of foster homes until at the age of 4 she entered St. Vincent’s Industrial School, in Goldenbridge, run by the Sisters of Mercy. This was the year 1950.

She was the daughter of 31-year-old married woman and a 20-year-old Nigerian medical student both of whom she tried to contact later in life, the latter successfully and members of the family came from Nigeria to her funeral in Dublin earlier this month.

There is no doubt that back in the ‘50ies children like Christine were especially vulnerable to abuse in the Industrial School system as there was little supervision and no one to turn to for help. In spite of the horrendous treatment she received Christine was able to complete her leaving certificate and went on to become a nurse. She went public with an account of the years of abuse in 1992 and her courage enabled other survivors to tell their stories.

That was the year she heard from her father who wrote a letter addressing her as “Dear Daughter”. These two words became the title of a documentary exposing the conditions. Later that year when her father came to Ireland they were invited to the Gay Byrne show to tell their story. These events produced a huge response from other victims seeking help to rebuild their lives and, in some cases, to trace their parents.

Christine co-founded the Aislinn Centre to cater for their needs and the Government set up the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board. She continued to campaign tirelessly on behalf of victims and in 2012 she was conferred with an honorary doctorate of laws by Trinity College.

She surprised some of her friends by arranging a Catholic funeral. The service was led by the Archbishop of Dublin who acknowledged the injustices done by both Church and State. Surely this was something more than a confession to a corpse. Perhaps it was a recognition that all wrongs will be addressed either in this life or the next.

The Bible’s preference is the former. In fact Jesus said “at once”. Just as soon as you realise your error. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (St Matthew Chapter 5 verses 23/24).

The truth is it took a long time for Christine and the Church to get together. It often does when bad things are allowed to go on for years. It took courage to stand against Church and State. And it took courage for Church and State to admit to those sins. Sadly some who were responsible may not have repented. Jesus says not to attempt worship but first put right the wrong you have committed.

Christine Buckley’s last act shows that forgiveness is possible. The lesson is do it now!