Sexual abuse was "endemic" in boys' homes in Ireland and church leaders turned a blind eye to it, according to a major new report on mistreatment in church-run institutions dating back to the 1930s.
The head of the Catholic church in Ireland said he was "profoundly sorry" after publication of the 2,500-page report Wednesday, which said there was a "culture of silence" among authorities about abuse in the state-funded homes.
"Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from," said the report, the result of a nine-year probe. "A climate of fear... permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys."
The largest-ever probe into Irish religious orders found abusers could "operate undetected for long periods at the core of institutions," while victims were sometimes blamed as having been corrupted and "punished severely."
"Sexual abuse was endemic in boys' institutions," said the long-awaited official report, concluding: "Sexual abuse was known to religious authorities to be a persistent problem in male religious organisations."
It added: "Sexual abuse by members of religious orders was seldom brought to the attention of the Department of Education by religious authorities because of a culture of silence about the issue."
Since 2000, the government-appointed Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has been probing allegations of sexual and physical abuse in reform schools, workhouses, orphanages, children's homes and other childcare institutions.
Compensation has been sought by Irish people now living in more than 30 countries, with 40 percent of claims from women.
Some victims of abuse dismissed the report, which did not name the perpetrators and is unlikely to lead to any prosecutions.
"There is nothing by way of justice in any means significant in this report, nothing," said John Kelly of the Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA) group, adding that survivors felt "deceived and cheated."
But a victim turned campaigner, Christine Buckley, said it would "hopefully close another chapter in the hard lives of survivors".
"I earnestly hope that the recommendations made in this report will safeguard children in care at present and in the future," she said.
The head of the Irish Catholic church, Cardinal Sean Brady, apologised to the victims.
"I am profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways in these institutions," he said.
"The Catholic Church remains determined to do all that is necessary to make the church a safe, life-giving and joyful place for children."
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who is bracing for another major report next month on abuse by Catholic priests working in parish churches around the capital, said Wednesday's findings were "stomach-churning".
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe vowed to use the lessons from the report to help future generations, saying authorities "must fully face up to the fact that wrong was done and we must learn from the mistakes of the past".
A spokesman for the Christian Brothers, one of the main groups criticised in the report, also apologised.
Brother Edmund Garvey told RTE state radio they "unreservedly express our heartfelt sorrow and sadness and regret for what those people who were victimised in those institutions, in any way whatsoever, suffered in the past".
Mainly Catholic Ireland has been rocked by recurring revelations of clerical sex abuse of children. Many of the victims had reported the abuse when they were children but were not believed.
Campaigns by victims and a series of television documentaries and police inquiries in the 1990s led to the creation of the commission.
And in 1999, then prime minister Bertie Ahern made an unprecedented apology to the victims for Ireland's "collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain, to come to their rescue".
Many of the children ended up in state-run homes due to family break-up, because they were illegitimate or they were simply caught for truancy from school or petty crimes.