The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry heard details of 257 civil actions and a further 147 complaints made in connection with children’s homes run by the Sisters of Nazareth, the last of which closed in 1985.
The inquiry, before judge Lady Smith, also heard that 71 child residents of the homes were sent to Australia.
Giving evidence on behalf of the congregation, Sister Anna Maria Doolan admitted children had been abused and said the order was “very sorry”.
The inquiry, which is investigating the abuse of children in care dating back decades, heard that 14,766 boys, girls and babies had been accommodated in homes in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Kilmarnock and Lasswade, near Edinburgh, between 1925 and 1984.
While the ethos of each Nazareth House had been to care for children in a “motherly manner”, male and female siblings were often separated and inadequate numbers of nuns were asked to look after large groups of children.
Sr Doolan said allegations of abuse “first came to light” in the late 1990s following the screening of a TV documentary.
Asked by Colin MacAulay, senior counsel to the inquiry, if she now accepted children were abused in the homes, she said: “Yes, that’s correct.”
Asked to account for the failures that occurred, she added: “The sisters took in huge numbers of children, very poor children that needed care.
“With the gift of hindsight, those large numbers were probably too big for the number of sisters looking after them.
“We acknowledge looking back now that things weren’t right. There were poor practices and not enough personnel to look after the children.
“We would not want to think any children were abused in our care...but if that did happen we would be very sorry...”
The inquiry heard 71 children were sent to Australia, the majority from the homes in Aberdeen and Lasswade, according to the congregation’s records.
Speaking after yesterday’s hearing, a former resident of Nazareth House in Glasgow, claimed she had been force-fed, punched and had her mouth washed out with soap while living in the home in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
She said: “There were nuns that were very vicious to the children. There were nuns that should not have been looking after children – some came across as quite psychotic.”
Jim Buckley, 72, a former resident of Nazareth House in Aberdeen who has campaigned since the late 1990s for an inquiry, said he had been glad to hear an apology.
He said: “I was quite surprised at some of the thing (Sr Doolan) admitted to – she admitted there was abuse.
“It was an apology and it’s the first time I’ve heard that. You have no idea how I felt when I heard that.”
The inquiry continues.