Morning Update: An Explosive Investigation Into Orphanage Abuse In The US

Remembering John McCain, a shooting in Jacksonville, and Serena's catsuit. Your BuzzFeed News newsletter, August 27.

Nuns killed children, say former residents of St. Joseph's Catholic Orphanage

Good morning,

Take a deep breath, because this is an explosive and difficult story. Millions of American children were placed in orphanages. Some didn’t make it out alive.

After hearing whispers that seemed almost too awful to believe, BuzzFeed News investigative reporter Christine Kenneally embarked on a four-year-long journey to find out what really went on in these institutions. Today, BuzzFeed News publishes her special investigation, with a powerful video, revealing the systematic abuse and even the alleged murder of children by nuns.

Her searing report — part true crime drama, part ghost story — cracks open a secret history of American life, and adds a vast new dimension to the Catholic church’s mistreatment of children.

From a world shrouded in secrecy, she tells the story of Sally Dale, Joseph Barquin, Dale Greene, and other former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington, Vermont, who somehow found the courage to come forward and tell the world what they had witnessed, begging to be heard and believed. The local Catholic diocese put up the fight of a lifetime.

The legal battle upended every assumption that the people of Burlington had. Could memory be trusted? Could forgetting be forgotten? Could a thriving community turn a blind eye to evil? And could nuns, the very women charged with protecting the most vulnerable members of society, have tortured and even killed them?

The Catholic Church abuse scandals — including this month’s Pennsylvania grand jury report on how the church hid the crimes of hundreds of priests — shattered the silence that for so long had protected the church’s secrets. But the truth about what went on inside its American orphanages somehow remained unspoken.

Across thousands of miles, across decades, the abuse in orphanages took eerily similar forms. People who grew up in orphanages said they were made to kneel or stand for hours, sometimes with their arms straight out. Children were forced to eat their own vomit. Children were dangled upside-down out windows, over wells, or in laundry chutes. They were locked in cabinets, in closets, in attics, sometimes for days.

While other countries have opened national inquiries, in the US, there has been no national reckoning. The few times that people who went through the orphanages have sought justice, the courts have tended to be largely indifferent.

So the dark secrets, like the children who haunt survivors’ dreams, lay buried.

Until now.


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