In this week’s blog, Fr. Paddy speaks about the women of the Magadalene Laundries following the recent announcement of a public inquiry by the Irish Government.
The Irish Government, have been told by the UN Committee Against Torture, to set up a statutory investigation into allegations of torture and degrading treatment of women committed in the Magdalene Laundries. The Magdalene Laundries, are a dark and horror chapter in the story of cruelty and evil actions against the innocent and vulnerable in our country. Often women thrown into these brutal institutions, were innocent victims of a society crippled by fear and shame, fuelled by the Catholic Church’s power in the early history of our State. Rape victims, frightened teenagers, rejected young adults, often were abandoned by family, removed from community into these dark and dreary establishments that compounded fear and deep shame.
Peter Mullins’ “The Magdalene Sisters” movie in 2002, gives a glimpse of what it was like for thousands of women who had to live in these brutal places. Women, who were pregnant, had no choice when it came to handing over their babies for adoption. Many women were greatly exploited working tirelessly, seven days a week, for nothing, being punished because they were ‘wrong’. Last November, the Irish Human Rights Commission, responding to the “Justice for Magdalene’s Group” concluded, “There was evidence that the State failed to protect women in the Laundries and recommended, a statutory mechanism be established to investigate the matters advanced by the (Justice for Magdalene’s Group) and in appropriate cases to grant redress where warranted”.
Last month the group made a formal submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. This committee has urged the Irish State not just to carry out a statutory investigation into allegations of torture, but also to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of the alleged abuse in appropriate cases and provide redress and compensation to the victims. Surely the Church and State cannot go on passing the buck on this tragic issue. It has a moral responsibility to the few surviving women whose lives are forever scarred by the awful memory of judgement, punishment and harshness visited to them. At the very least Church leadership and our new Government has a moral responsibility to the surviving women. It must apologise to them and allow them some consolation in their latter years. “The committee’s request for a prompt response from the Irish State reinforces justice for Magdalene’s assertion that this is a population of women who are aging and elderly and therefore the time is to act now” said Marie Steed, a director of the lobby group whose mother is a survivor of one of the laundries.
As a society we are only as sick as our best kept secret. The recent past has been a time for revealing the dark and shameful secrets of abuse and violence often directed to the most vulnerable in our society. Shamefully, the Catholic Church, is to the fore when such revelations come to light. This is a painful and difficult time. However, that which is hidden must be revealed. I salute the heroic lives of many women who had to endure the hardship and victimisation endured in such laundries. Often their story remains personal to them alone. Those few months or years spent in horrible laundries, no doubt, a memory that brings with it tremendous pain and suffering. They are for me, real Heroes to have survived, and been able to begin again in picking up the pieces of their own lives.