“I used to tell God I hated him.”


When they sent me to the sisters

For the way men looked at me

Branded as a jezebel

I knew I was not bound for heaven

I’d be cast in shame

into the Magdalene laundries.

-Joni Mitchell, The Magdalene Laundries

/span>Irish Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse released a long-awaited report today. The report, in five volumes of 2,500 pages, took a decade of investigation to produce, and catalogues 70 years of systemic child abuse by Catholic religious orders, of at least 35,000 victims.

Sadly, that estimate is likely too low. Many of the victims, as well as their abusers, are long dead.Even sadder, no one will face prosecution for these crimes, or for the conspiracy to cover them up. Some surviving victims are already calling the report a politically-motivated whitewash.

The Irish State colluded with the religious authorities
to cover up child abuse that was “endemic” in Catholic-run schools and care homes for 70 years, a devastating report concluded today.
The Child Abuse Commission catalogued sexual, physical and emotional abuse inflicted on 35,000 disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children by both religious and lay staff over the last 70 years.

The Commission has described the attitude of the Church towards its work as ‘adversarial and legalistic.’

Among the religious orders whose work was investigated were the Sisters of Mercy, responsible for the largest number of children’s institutions, the Christian Brothers, which ran schools for boys aged 10 to 16, the Presentation Sisters and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge. Several are expected to be explicitly criticized by the inquiry, headed by Justice Sean Ryan.
The first head of the Commission, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy resigned in protest at a lack of co-operation by the Irish department of education. It was set up in 1999 when the allegations first surfaced.


1999 may have been when Ireland finally started to address the situation but allegations had “surfaced” long before that. People had heard these stories for years.The last Magdalene laundry wasn’t shut down till 1996. Yes, 1996. My ex lived in Ireland for a couple of years in the late 1980s. I first heard about the laundries and industrial schools from her. I remember being incredulous, naively asking why, if it was so well-known, no one “did anything” about it. She just shrugged, “It’s Ireland. It’s the Church.”

Many of the institutions housed abandoned or neglected children, but courts also sent those guilty of truancy and petty crime. Some also housed disabled children. Unmarried mothers were also sent to institutions known as Magdalene Laundries, many by their own families, where they were forced into hard physical work, usually washing and ironing clothes, and lived in spartan, prison-like conditions.

“Those places were the Irish gulags for women. When you went inside their doors you left behind your dignity, identity and humanity. We were locked up, had no outside contacts and got no wages, although we worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, 52 weeks a year. What else is that but slavery? And to think that they were doing all this in the name of a loving God! I used to tell God I hated him.”

blockquote class=”webkit-indent-blockquote”>

“Those places” were the Magdalene laundries: convents throughout Ireland that contained huge washing workhouses run by nuns, which were originally set up in the early 19th century as a refuge for prostitutes. A hundred years later they had become prisons to which Irish Catholic girls and young women “in moral danger” could be sent by their parish priest – the term covered anyone from single mothers (who had often become pregnant as a result of rape or incest) to girls who were simply high-spirited or “bold.”

Many never saw their families or the outside world again but lived their entire lives behind walls until they were buried in unmarked communal graves. They, in their tens of thousands, are “the disappeared” of Ireland.

13 thoughts on ““I used to tell God I hated him.”

  1. Wilful blindness to the Holocaust. AIDS promotion in Africa. Almost a century’s worth of systemic child abuse and attempted genocide in “residential schools” in Canada. Pedophile priests raping children (of both sexes, mind) for over 50 years with full institutional knowledge in the US. 35 000+ “disappeared” women in Ireland. Somebody explain to me why the Vatican isn’t considered a terrorist state already…
    Don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against Catholics qua Catholics, but the Catholic Church as an institution has a hell of a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

  2. Speaking of the axis of evil, doesn’t it run right through the middle of the papacy? That has been my quiet opinion for many years. Saints? LOL

  3. Fuck Catholicism.
    Oh, was that uncivil and intolerant of me? Here’s my answer to that(extends middle finger).

  4. Ah, yes.
    Power corrupts.
    Where the power is absolute so will be the corruption.
    The “Church” has had absolute power for damn near 1,800 years.
    Are we surprised it’s been absolutely filled with corruption for roughly 1,970 years?
    (Because, seriously, that first bunch of near-communists in Jerusalem, before Saul of Tarsus showed up, were onto something IMNHVO).

  5. As an Irish Catholic, hearing these stories cuts me to the core. It is so awful I can’t even put it into words and I don’t blame abuse victims for feeling enraged. But we must recognize that these same things were happening in public institutions as well, which demonstrates that the physical abuse and labor were socially sanctioned. There is no excuse for the sexual abuse–it was abuse then and it is abuse today. But today, what we consider beatings and slavery was considered corporal punishment and hard work even 50 years ago. Public as well as private schools and orphanages beat and molested children, and it wasn’t until the early 20th cent. until our labor laws came into existence–to say nothing of their being enforced. When we criticize the church we also need to criticize the secular world that practiced these same things or turned a blind eye. I am not excusing the church I am only putting these things in historical context.

  6. sorry, I disagree. Yes, children abandoned by their families are often the targets for abuse in orphanages, religious or secular.
    The Magdalene laundries, though, are another thing altogether. These Catholic institutions held adult women against their will as slaves, using their sexual “sins” as justification for doing so. that has not happened in recent history in secular institutions or even protestant ones. You need to look at the sick Jensenist Irish Catholic culture and know that the very warped attitudes towards women and sex allowed this to happen. Irish Catholics need to own it. I say that as an Irish Catholic American.

  7. Maire, you’re correct to note that institutional abuse of children (and others of limited autonomy) was widespread in many “civilized” countries.
    I’d argue though, that these actions, when taken by the church, represent an even greater trespass. The great mother church operated as the agent of divinity and morality on earth, intercessors and gatekeepers between humans and god, claiming a license that was above the laws of man, and absolute.

  8. What’s saddest about the release of the Ryan Report and the investigations preceding it, is that the survivors of the Magdalene Laundries were completely ignored. They are not eligible for any redress from the Board nor were any of the few testimonies given taken seriously. Mr Justice Ryan ruled that the Magdalenes were ineligible for consideration because a) they were ‘adult women’ (yet we have piles of evidence showing girls as young as 12 were remanded to Laundries) and b) they ‘entered voluntarily’ (again, we have damning evidence that women who tried to escape were dragged back by the Gardai — how is this voluntary?!)
    The report only covers perhaps 70% of the woeful neglect, abuse and exploitation of Irish children — through industrial schools, convent homes, mother-baby homes (the Irish-U.S. adoption export scheme of the late 1940s through mid 1970s), etc.
    So much more needs to be done. Please support us in fighting for justice, a fair pension for their unpaid labour and acknowledgement of the suffering experienced by the Magdalenes and their displaced children.

  9. Mari, it was my understanding, or I guess mis-understanding, that it was the already-established government reparations system that had -previous to this- not included the Magdalenes on the list of those deserving of reparation.
    Weren’t some of the orders investigated in this report among those that ran the laundries? Did the same orders also run other institutions?
    Please note: I’m not challenging you, just asking for more information. I’d like to get it right.

  10. Yes, absolutely…many of the same orders identified in the report ran Laundries. The Sisters of mercy, Good Shepherd Sisters and Sacred Heart order ran numerous types of facilities — mother-baby homes, convent schools, industrial schools and laundries. And yes, the Redress Board did exempt the Magdalenes in its initial 2002 report.

Comments are closed.