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Marie Docherty (b. 1942, Glasgow) was a Scottish nun known as "Sister Alphonso", whose name kept cropping up when allegations of abuse at Nazareth House homes were being investigated.[1] Docherty was convicted in September 2000 of four charges of cruelty to young girls in her care at the Nazareth House homes in Aberdeen, Scotland and at Lasswade in Midlothian, Scotland.[2]

Background

Growing up in Glasgow in a working class family, in 1960 at age 18 she entered the Order of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth. Upon becoming a nun she was given the name "Sister Alphonso". She was assigned to the Nazareth House in Aberdeen in 1963.[1]

The cruel and unnatural treatment of girls over a 15 year period ended in the 1980s at the Nazareth House homes when they were transformed to cater for the care of the elderly, instead of young children.[1]

Adeline Spence, three years old in 1966, was sent to the Glasgow home. She described the treatment she received there, "It wasn't until I left that I realized you didn't beat people up, that you weren't forced to eat your own vomit, that your nails were not cut so close to the quick that your fingers bled", however she did not specifically name Docherty as one of the perpetrators of her abuse.[3]

Adeline Spence referred to more than one nun perpetrating the abuse, "If you wet the bed they would make you wear the wet sheet round your body and your wet pants on your head. After a while that stopped, but they made you jump into a cold bath every morning."[3]

Trial

After a six-week trial, Ms. Docherty was found guilty of four out of 23 charges. Sheriff Colin Harris decided not to imprison her due to her age and a heart condition.[2]

Aftermath

After the conviction, the Bishop of Aberdeen announced that she would be sent to the United States for three months to "rest and recover". He later retracted this after an outcry from her victims, saying through a church spokesman that it was a "misunderstanding". She remained in the Sisters of Nazareth order, but according to a spokesman it was "very doubtful" that she would continue to look after elderly people.[2]

Civil suit

420 people, alleging they were cruelly treated by two orders of nuns at six children's homes in Scotland, filed suit.[2]

Solicitor Cameron Fyfe said, "My clients' accusations are against 20 to 30 nuns in total. The claims amount to saying that there was a regime of abuse in these homes - four Nazareth House-run ones and a further two run by another order."

"These people have not been motivated by money - they wanted to be believed and if possible to have an apology from the church.

"It is going to be a long process, it could be two years before we get anywhere. Our first major hurdle is to convince the court that these cases should be proceeded with."[2]

In August 2006, 18 former residents at orphanages run by the church were awarded state compensation of between £1,000 and £7,500 each.[3]

Bishop's statement

After the conviction, Mario Conti, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen, expressed sorrow for any acts which might have marked the lives of individuals.

He said he could confidently restate that cruel and unnatural treatment did not form part of any official policy of discipline promoted or accepted by the Sisters of Nazareth or the church then or now.[2]

References

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