Catholic Church to investigate allegations of abuse at children’s homes in T&T

Amid public outcry and outrage over the alleged abuse at children’s homes, the Roman Catholic Church will investigate allegations of such behaviour at its institutions, which was exposed in the Justice Judith Jones Report.

The announcement came hours after acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob told Guardian Media that the T&T Police Service had established a special team to examine the Jones report.

The team, headed by acting Superintendent of the Gender-Based Violence Unit (GBVU) Claire Guy-Alleyne, will also look into the 1997 Robert Sabga Report.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley recently called on the police to investigate the allegations.

Archbishop Jason Gordon yesterday said the church’s investigative team will comprise experts in psychology, childcare/social work, law and human resource management in a media release yesterday.

Gordon said the church acknowledged the Jones report, titled Safeguarding children in community residences and child support centres in Trinidad and Tobago, dated December 14, 2021.

He said the church sincerely thanks the independent team appointed by the Cabinet for their work in producing the report, as “every child is a gift from God and deserves love and protection from all forms of abuse.”

“These allegations grieve our hearts and we shall do everything we can to bring healing and justice. The Church takes seriously any, and all, allegations of this nature and in this regard, has immediately launched an investigation to now verify the truth of the allegations,” Gordon said.

He noted a statement on page 10 of the report that stated, ”This report aims not to establish the truth of the allegations of abuse, but to acknowledge the allegations, examine the system that facilitates a failure to safeguard children in these spaces and provide recommendations for improvement.”

With a mandate to preach and live the gospel with concerns for the total well-being of all people, especially children, Gordon gave the assurance that the church will take all measures to determine the facts and respond accordingly with its public duty. He said the investigations will also provide recommendations for improvement in the future.

The Jones report exposed horrendous stories of physical abuse at various children’s homes, some of it described as non-accidental incidents which resulted in death. The 307-page report also detailed the sexual, physical and psychological abuse many children faced at these institutions. They include punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting and burning, inflicted by adults or older children.

The Jones report noted that the St Jude’s Home for Girls, an institution under the Catholic Church, had a staff that promoted a culture of abuse, as it instigated beatings.

The 1997 Sabga report, commissioned by the United National Congress government, contained explicit findings of visits to 10 children’s homes and found similar horror stories.

Again, St Jude’s was listed as the worst. The investigative team learned of a corridor leading to the music room where staff whipped children with curtain wires, belts, slippers and aluminium strips. It reported that a supervisor stripped and beat a girl in the corridor and shoved her head in a bucket of water. Depriving children of food was also a form of punishment. 

Over the years, police had to respond to several cases of girls running away from the home and sometimes found them in places that were not acceptable for a child.

As public uproar rages on, Guardian Media attempted to contact former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, whose Cabinet commissioned the Sabga report. However, there was no answer to several phone calls. 

Also contacted, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, the then-attorney general, said he could not recall if anyone brought the Sabga report to his attention. Maharaj said if it existed, he supposed the minister in charge knew about it. 

“I was Attorney General from 1995-2001 and during that period of time, I have no recollection of having seen that report. If such a report was brought to my attention, I would have acted on it,” Maharaj said.

Guardian Media also tried to contact former minister of community empowerment, sport and consumer affairs Manohar Ramsaran, under whose purview children’s homes fell then, but calls to his phones were unanswered.

Ramsaran confirmed that he received the Sabga Report in a newspaper article this week. He said it happened long ago and was never a secret, as all Cabinet members got a copy.

Asked whether he sent a copy of the report to the police for investigation, he said his interest was not personal or to lock up anyone, but a fact-finding mission.

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