The abuse, which took place between 1930 and 1970, was not a series of isolated incidents but rather systematic practices, reports the Neue Zurcher Zeitung. In one example, 38 out of the 42 children who lived in one of the reformatories reported that they had been physically punished.
Some of the abuses would today be classed as torture, the reports said. Practices included holding children's heads underwater or confining them to dark dungeon-like rooms. More than half of the 58 respondents in both studies said they had also suffered sexual abuse.
The spiral of punishment was even worse for disobedient children, those who wet their beds, or for sons of single mothers, reports La Tribune de Genève.
In 2010, a German TV documentary revealed the terrible conditions at the Catholic reformatory of Rathausen, in canton Lucerne, during the 20th century. Shocked by evidence, the cantonal government commissioned a report by professor Markus Furrer, an education expert. The Catholic Church asked teology professor Markus Ries to carry out its own study. Both reached the same conclusions.
According to professor Furrer, the root of the abuse was a lack of funding. This led to a few people people being left in charge of a large group of children, with the centres run on military lines. Each centre hosted between 540 and 570 at once.
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When faced with the evidence of the two reports, episcopal vicar Ruedi Heim apologised to victims in the name of the diocese of Basel and stressed his regret "for the injustices carried out". Ries, author of the second study, asked the Church "to name the sins and the culprits by their name."