Children at a Catholic boarding school in Scotland were sexually abused and subjected to sadistic treatment that “destroyed childhoods”, an inquiry has found.

Lady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, found that children were sexually abused at two schools run by the Marist Brothers: St Columba’s College, Largs, and St Joseph’s College, Dumfries.

The abuse included masturbation, oral sexual activity and rape and children also endured physical and emotional abuse.

Her findings in relation to the provision of residential care by the Marist Brothers at the two schools between 1950 and 1981 were published on Wednesday.

Lady Smith said that Marist Brothers in positions of trust at both boarding schools “violated their monastic vows” and “breached the trust of children and their families”.

Her report noted that several members of the order sexually abused children at St Columba’s and that two particular Marist Brothers with easy access to children were serial sex abusers.

She said: “They sexually abused children of tender years with impunity. Their presence at St Columba’s for a period of over 20 years meant that the sexual abuse of children was a chronic problem that destroyed childhoods and had lasting impact.”

Lady Smith added that the “level of depravity at St Columba’s involved children being induced to engage in sexual activity in groups”.

She noted that Marist Brothers at both schools pursued “abusive regimes of the brutal treatment of children” much of which consisted of excessive punishment, and said that some children suffered “sadistic treatment associated with sexual abuse”.

At St Columba’s, children were “excessively belted and beaten”, often on their bare bottoms, while some Marist Brothers threw wooden blackboard dusters at children in the classroom, and some children at St Joseph’s were subjected to “brutal beltings” on hands and bare and clothed bottoms.

One former Marist Brother was convicted of sexually abusing children at St Columba’s, while another former Marist Brother was convicted of sexually abusing children at St Joseph’s.

The inquiry also heard about St Columba’s pupil Aldo Moroni, who died aged seven in February 1980 having been physically abused about two weeks before his death.

However, Lady Smith concluded that the treatment Aldo was subjected to at St Columba’s was “not causative of his death”, which was investigated by police in 2016.

Lady Smith said that both schools had flawed systems that allowed abusers driven by sexual motives to have easy access to children in their care.

Her report said that the fear of severe punishment, the authority of the Catholic Church, and a culture of obedience served to “empower” abusers and, conversely, rendered many victims powerless in the belief that their complaints of abuse would not be believed.

She said: “The Marist Brothers were not qualified or trained in how to care for children in their residential care.

“The Marists’ establishment of residential schools for the children of Catholic families may have been well meaning but, in the absence of robust protective systems, the outcome for many was the creation of abusive environments.

“Systemic failures allowed sexual predators easy access to vulnerable children.”

Lady Smith said the Marist Brothers provided a “sincere apology” for the abuse suffered.

A statement given by a spokesman on behalf of the Marist Brothers on Wednesday said: “The Marist Brothers are deeply sorry for the pain and hurt caused to all those who were abused by Marist Brothers, and to others who were affected by the abuse.

“We offer our unreserved apology. The Marist Brothers recognise the courage of those who came forward and hope that the inquiry’s report brings recognition of their suffering and loss.”

Evidential hearings took place between October 3 2019 and November 5 2019, during which time the inquiry heard from 43 witnesses.

The findings are the third and final in a series of three sets of case study findings in relation to the provision of residential care for children by male religious orders in Scotland.