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"Just in the Nick of Time"


26 September 2005

Some time ago, I caught the tail end of a 60 Minutes segment on the Magdelene laundries of Ireland, where from the early 19th century until 1996 some 30,000 females, considered "fallen women" were held prisoner by Catholic nuns and put to penal servitude, mostly for life.

It was something I'd never heard of before.

When I stumbled across the movie, "The Magdelene Sisters" on Netflix, I added it to my queue and Saturday night I watched it.

A review described it as "a drama almost unrelieved in its portrayal of a mad theocracy, sexual repression and rage."  That's putting it mildly.  This is definitely not a feel-good movie.

The story centers around four girls who are sent off to this "convent" because they are considered fallen women.   One of them was raped by a cousin at a family wedding; one was in an orphanage and was caught flirting with boys and branded as a woman of loose morals; the other two had children out of wedlock.

The denigration and abuse these women suffered at the hands of the sadistic nuns in the film is unspeakable.  According to one woman who survived the experience,

“Plenty of people will think the events in the film have been exaggerated to make it more dramatic. But I tell you, the reality of those places was a thousand times worse. There’s a scene in which a girl is crying in the dormitory and another goes over to her bed to comfort her. That could never have happened. You weren’t allowed any private conversation.

“Again, in the film the girls get glimpses of the outside world and even ordinary people who don’t live in the laundries. In reality, we were totally incarcerated. You could see nothing except sky.”

I was so affected by the movie that today I went and did some on-line investigation into the Magdelene laundries and what I read so shocked me that I cannot believe that I was a member of this church for so long.   I cannot believe that this situation went on, with the church's knowledge and encouragement, until 1996.

The new Pope is considering banning all gay men, even celibate gay men, from the priesthood as a way of ending the abuse of children.  This assumes that straight men are more able to control their sexual urges than gay men and that no females have been abused by priests (or, as I am beginning to get the feeling, females are unimportant so their abuse is irrelevant and not worth mentioning).

I read several articles about the Magdelene laundries after seeing the film.  This lengthy article is particularly eye-opening.  Some of the comments...

"The women are beaten, degraded and suffer sexual abuse. All this that they might do penance for their “sins”!"

"The Magdalene laundries were merely the tip of the iceberg of the crimes perpetrated against women and children by the Catholic church and the Irish clericalist state. As many as 300,000 children were locked in “industrial schools” where they were denied an education and forced to do manual work for no pay—slave labour —with the profits of their labour going to the church.

"From the 1940s to 1970s, a horrific medical procedure was carried out on pregnant women who would otherwise have had a caesarean birth. They were forcibly, and often without their knowledge or consent, subjected to an operation known as symphysiotomy, where the cartilage junction of the pubic bone was sawed through in order that the pelvis would “open like a hinge” during childbirth. As a consequence many women were crippled and condemned to a life of incredible pain and suffering. Expressing the Catholic-dominated medical profession’s rationale for this inhuman butchery, Dr. Alex Spain argued that if caesarean births were carried out, “The results will be contraception, the mutilating operation of sterilisation, and marital difficulty” (Irish Examiner, 17 April 2001). Women were simply seen as vessels for making babies."

“Regarding the accusations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, deplorable and disgusting as those abuses are, they are not so harmful to the children as the grievous mental harm in bringing up the child Catholic in the first place. I had a letter from a woman in America in her forties, who said that when she was a child of about seven, brought up a Catholic, two things happened to her: one was that she was sexually abused by her parish priest. The second thing was that a great friend of hers at school died, and she had nightmares because she thought her friend was going to hell because she wasn’t Catholic. For her there was no question that the greatest child abuse of those two was the abuse of being taught about hell. Being fondled by the priest was negligible in comparison.”

[end of quotes]

The last paragraph above there rang bells with me.  I remember my concern about hell because my mother, at the time an unbaptized person, was, they told me, condemned to hell while my father, alcoholic/rageaholic that he was, had a straight shot into heaven by virtue of his baptism.

I could go on and on and on about how angry I am, a little after the fact, since the laundries are now closed, but at the deception that innocent Catholics are subjected to every single day, with being taught one thing while behind the scenes these horrible, horrible things are going on that the Church hierarchy continues to sweep under the rug -- and, who knows?  Perhaps even encourage.

Indeed, what would Jesus do???

The Magdelene Story is told here.


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