Nuns caught performing acts of sadism on children in Australian orphanage.

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Nuns caught performing acts of sadism on children in Australian orphanage.

Sadistic nuns at a notorious Australian orphanage in Queensland dished out abuse in a toxic environment that festered due in part to inadequate government scrutiny, supervision and training, a royal commission has found.

The child sex abuse royal commission last year examined cruel treatment of 13 former residents of St Joseph’s Orphanage, which was operated by the Sisters of Mercy between 1940 and 1975.

The men and women – now aged from their 50s to 80s – recalled abuse at Neerkol, ranging from public floggings and being walked on in high heels to being made to drape urine-soaked sheets over their heads.

Commissioners Justice Jennifer Coate, Professor Helen Milroy and Andrew Murray explored the responses of the Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton and the Queensland government to complaints, which had often fell on deaf ears.

The commission found punishment administered by some nuns was “cruel and excessive” and was against regulations in place at the time.

But some victims did not report sexual abuse because they had “little or no opportunity” to speak with department inspectors.

“We are also satisfied that children who did complain of physical and/or sexual abuse to a department inspector, a Sister, a priest or police were not believed and/or were often punished by the Sister or priest for reporting the abuse,” the commission’s report said.

The abusive environment also went undetected due to the Queensland government’s failure to adequately supervise and protect the children for whom it was guardian.

Inspectors were not properly trained and the scrutiny over children’s living circumstances was inadequate, the commissioners noted.

Retired Rockhampton Bishop Brian Heenan and Sister Berneice Loch, who became the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Mercy in 1991, were also inadequately trained in how to respond to child abuse complaints.

The commission said the case study raised a raft of systemic issues including problems with policies for reporting child sexual abuse, complaint handling, monitoring and oversight and the maintaining of records.

Those problems would be further considered in the commission’s criminal justice project, the report said.

The probe into the Rockhampton orphanage built on the findings of the Forde Inquiry in 1998 and 1999, which exposed it as a place where physical, sexual and psychological abuse was rife.