Learning more

It's easy to find reasons to be angry at the Catholic church today. All you have to do is open a newspaper like the Irish Times or tune into a television or radio show. Every story that even mentions Catholicism - and it's rare to find one with anything good to say -  attracts a swarm of enraged commenters live and online repeating accusations they heard from someone who heard them from someone else...

But how much truth is there to these accusations?

Are there good reasons to be angry or are these reasons mostly based on falsehoods?

Have we gone so far down the path of blind disdain that we will close our eyes to verifiable truths which contradict the narrative being peddled by the loudest voices in our society?

While there are numerous individuals and organisations who would be only delighted if the Church faded away, there are many more who earnestly and honestly just believe what they are told, and continue believing because nobody told them otherwise.

What is the Catholic Church?

Before taking a look at what the Catholic Church did or didn't do, it's a sensible idea to consider what the Church actually is. In the most tangible sense, the Church is an organisation that has tried throughout history to do good, and to teach others to likewise do good. The doctrines of the Church are not objectionable - do not lie, do not cheat, do not steal, do not murder - and for the most part, Catholicism has been filled with people who tried to live up to those standards.

Perhaps they were not always successful but they tried and kept trying.

The good the Church does

Something you aren't likely to hear about is how much practical good the Church does today.

Across the world, the Catholic Church runs 150,087 schools educating about 54 million students annually, mostly in poorer countries. Catholic religious orders operate over 5,000 hospitals, 16,000 health clinics, 600 leprosaria, as well as almost 16,000 nursing homes for the elderly, chronically ill and disabled, 10,000 orphanages, 10,500 nurseries, 13,000 matrimonial advice centres, 3,200 centres for social education, and 31,182 charitable institutions of other kinds.

The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and health care in the world. The Catholic Church is a major provider of medical care to HIV/AIDS patients, with much of its work taking place in developing countries.

Indirectly, non clerical organisations like the Society of St Vincent de Paul or the Legion of Mary as well as numerous other charitable and humanitarian organisations do incredible work too. Many thousands of tons of food aid and emergency support is distributed by Catholic charities each year, and local farmers are helped to become self sustaining.

Locally here in Ireland, besides all of the above, the Church has gone to extraordinary lengths to help the homeless. Groups such as the Peter McVerry Trust or Focus Ireland were established by priests or religious sisters. Crosscare is the main social support organisation of the Dublin archdiocese, and it provides a wide variety of homes to people with various different needs, including fifty apartments for families on the site of a former convent.

Along with Focus Ireland, founded by Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, the Church has contributed in excess of €10 million in property and services to help the homeless, housing many hundreds of vulnerable people directly, donating land to Dublin city and leasing more properties out to the corporation at a nominal rate. Other organisations who help the weakest include the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul and the Capuchin Centre.

Everywhere you look in Ireland today, you can find physical, tangible good being done by the Catholic church, and that's without even considering the spiritual work being done by the faithful. This information isn't difficult to find - so why is it never mentioned by journalists?

Tuam babies and homes

One of the most common accusations cast at the Church in Ireland is that some unspecified number of babies or infants who had been left in the care of a religious order were unceremoniously dumped in septic tanks in the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam and in other locations. Some of the more hysterical claims say that up to 100,000 children were "vanished", and worse:

"The weak among the children were deliberately starved to death and then crudely disposed of at clandestine septic tank sewage systems. Most of the babies and a few children were disposed of by flushing them down toilets, flushed into secret Victorian sewage systems attached to all Religious run Institutions. After years of investigations, it is thought that some bodies of the disposable babies and children were destroyed with caustic soda, in the abattoirs that operated in all the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland. We also know that caustic soda was added soon afterward to prevent blockages in the sewage drains, the Nuns taught of everything.  Caustic soda was also known for its corrosive effects by the Nuns and was added by the Nuns to speed up with the decomposition of the child’s body to erase the baby’s identification, while others, babies and children were just dumped, or dismantled  into unknown mass graves."

While this is towards the more rabid end of the spectrum, such nonsense is representative of a wide category of falsehoods aimed at undermining the moral and social standing of the Church, and demonising Catholics generally.

In reality, Catherine Corless never claimed hundreds or thousands of children had been buried in a septic tank anywhere, and she never once used the word "dumped". She had found that 796 children had passed away in the Tuam home over the course of 36 years having died of measles, whooping cough, influenza, tuberculosis, convulsions, bronchitis and meningitis, and other sicknesses. All she wanted was that they should be remembered on a plaque.

She concluded that many of the mortal remains of the children had been buried in an unofficial graveyard at the rear of the former home, where local people had for many years left flowers and planted roses. She said in 2014 that she had learned from local residents that the graveyard was dotted with "tiny markers there" with "bits of stones left to indicate graves." Such "tiny markers" suggest this was a cillin graveyard, or a graveyard for children.

During the course of her research she heard that some young boys had been playing in the area and found a crypt with bones in it, and tracked down a man called Barry Sweeney, who in 1975 had been one of those boys.

Mr Sweeney confirmed that he had found a crypt but "there was no way there were 800 skeletons down that hole. Nothing like that number. I don’t know where the papers got that." In fact there were more like fifteen or twenty skeletons, according to Mr Sweeney.

The building which later became the Tuam home was originally built and used as a workhouse in the 19th century, so earlier maps describe the "crypt" as being a septic tank. However, the public water scheme arrived in Tuam in 1937, and after that the tank was no longer used for waste disposal. Even if it had been, it would not be possible for hundreds of bodies to have been put into a working sewage tank.

Many years after the tank was drained it seems likely that it was used as a crypt, which is where the human remains originated.

Some local researchers have done an interesting video on the subject:

Thankfully not all of the media ran with the false story about the Tuam home.

"So in the space of a few days, without the benefit of any excavation or digging, we went from speculative claims made by a modest local researcher about the whereabouts of 796 children to heated talk across the world media about an Irish holocaust on a par with what the Nazis did to Jewish children.

What madness is this? How did speculation that some children out of 796 might have been buried in a former septic tank become news headlines about 800 dead children having been found in a septic tank, leading to comparisons being made between Ireland’s old nuns and the architects of the Nazi Holocaust?

Clearly this isn’t about news anymore; it isn’t a desire for facts or truth that elevated the crazed claims about Tuam up the agenda; rather, a mishmash of anti-Catholic prejudice, Irish self-hatred and the modern thirst for horror stories involving children turned Tuam into one of the worst reported stories of 2014 so far."

Despite which we were nonetheless treated to the spectacle of an Irish minister demanding the Church pay for the removal and reburial of the nonexistent bodies of these children.

"The Church should pay for the removal of the remains of almost 800 infants and children dumped by nuns in a sewage pit, the Children’s Minister has stated.

Katherine Zappone wants the Catholic Church to cover the costs of the removal of hundred’s of children’s bodies from a mass grave in Tuam, Co Galway.

It is estimated that the cost of removing the children’s bodies from the disused septic tank and giving them Christian burials will be around €5million."

It is astonishing not only that such misinformation should be uncritically accepted at the highest levels of the Irish government, but that an individual who believed and demanded action on such falsehoods managed to reach the highest levels of the Irish government to begin with! Not that she was alone, since the circus continues at an even higher level.

Clerical child abuse

It goes without saying that powerful organisations attract people who will abuse that power for their own unpleasant ends. Such people are drawn to every organisation and every centre of power, and always have been. There are no shortages of abuse scandals among sporting bodies and among high profile media figures. Government officials, teachers, other religions and of course entertainment stars, all stand similarly accused. Such people were drawn to the Church too.

That doesn't mean Catholicism itself is bad, or that it teaches bad lessons, any more than a corrupt judge or garda makes the whole body of the law or justice system bad. On the contrary, their examples only highlight the clear need for the law and for a justice system.

In the same way, corrupt or abusive priests or religious individuals are who they are in spite of the Church, not because of it.

Since they acted contrary to every teaching and doctrine of the Faith, the Faith cannot be held responsible for them. If they had acted according to the teachings of the Church, they would never have harmed anyone, so they underline the need for Catholicism. Not for cynical or hypocritical lip service as a means to an end, but for true belief and true service to that belief.

The information you will find here isn't meant to excuse the guilty - not at all. There were bad people and there were many institutional failings. These were and are being addressed and steps have been taken to ensure they can never happen again.

But that doesn't make every accusation against the Church true, and it certainly doesn't make Catholicism a bad thing.

The overwhelming majority of priests and religious people are completely innocent of abusing anyone, despite which a substantial percentage of the public overestimate the number of Catholic clergy who are guilty of child abuse. This is according an Amarach Research poll commissioned by The Iona Institute.

The most authoritative estimate to date, conducted in the United States, puts the true number of accused priests at 4 percent.

However, seven out of every ten respondents believe the number is higher than this and 42 per cent put the number above 20 percent. Of these, 27 percent believe the number exceeds 40 percent, and 17 percent put it at half or more.

Five percent of the public believe that between 90 percent and 100 percent of all Catholic priests are guilty of child abuse.

Therefore, close to half of the public are overestimating the number of guilty priests by a factor of at least five to one.

The findings of The Iona Institute poll are similar to those of a poll commissioned on this subject by the Royal College of Surgeons in 2002, although a higher percentage of the public are now grossly overestimating the number of priests who are guilty of child abuse.

The Royal College poll found that 11pc of the public believed that more than half of priests are guilty of child abuse. This latest poll, as mentioned, found that 17 percent of the public today put it at more than half.

Commenting on the findings on behalf of The Iona Institute, Professor Patricia Casey said: “There has been very deep and completely justified public anger over the scandal of child sex abuse by clergy. However, only a small minority of priests are guilty of this terrible crime and in the interests of justice, and in fairness to the vast majority of priests, it is essential that fact this becomes universally known among the public at large”.

Professor Casey continued: “It might be understandable if the public were overestimating the number of guilty priests by a factor of two or so, but the fact that so many members of the public are grossly overestimating the number of guilty priests should be a matter of deep concern to all fair-minded people.

“It could be claimed that the fact for this overestimation lies exclusively with the Church. However, as a normal rule when responsible media outlets are reporting crimes by certain groups such as Travellers or Muslims, great care is taken not to stereotype or demonise these groups.

“For example, when terrorist atrocities are committed in the name of Islam, responsible media point out that only a tiny minority of Muslims are guilty of these atrocities, and that such terrorist attacks are an aberration in Muslim terms, rather than a true expression of Islam”.

She concluded: “Therefore, when cases of clerical abuse are being reported, a similarly responsible attitude should be adopted, that is, the cases should be factually and objectively covered, but it should be made clear each and every time that only a very small minority of Catholic priests are guilty of child abuse”.

Illegal adoption and the "sale" of infants

Another example of the anti-Catholic hysteria drummed up by the Irish media and political class can be found in allegations of the sale and even starvation unto death of babies and infants, propagated by none other than the then-Taoiseach himself, Enda Kenny. "We took their babies and gifted them, sold them, trafficked them and starved them" declared Kenny.

No child was placed for auction by any religious order. Parents without the means or ability to look after these children would give them up to nuns, who would where possible place them with an adoptive family. The overjoyed new parents might make a donation to the order, but that was a voluntary decision and about as far as it is possible to get from "trafficking" or the sale of children.

Even Katherine Zappone, Ireland’s then-Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and certainly no friend to the Church, said there was "little basis for the theory that rather than having died, the children were 'sold' to America." In fact, the report explicitly notes that "there is no evidence whatsoever that could support that theory."

It hardly seems surprising, then, that these same individuals insisted on sealing all records of the Mother and Baby homes for thirty years. If there had been supposedly damning evidence of abuse by the Church, they would surely have published it!

The accusation of deliberate starvation is even more astounding. The reality is that most if not all of the children given over to the care of religious orders were not from wealthy families. They were from poor families and would usually arrive in a sick, abused and malnourished state themselves. Prior to the 1970s in Ireland, children from poor families were four times more likely to die before their first birthday, and this is the very cohort that would be presented to the care of religious orders.

If we look at the example of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home operated by the Bon Secours Sisters, a researcher reports:

"For the years 1925-1926, 57 children, aged between one month and three years, (plus two, aged six and eight years) died in the Children’s Home. Of this number, 21 died of measles, other causes were convulsions, gastroenteritis, bronchitis, tuberculosis, meningitis, and pneumonia."

"Other causes of death were as follows: pertussis (otherwise known as whooping cough), anaemia, influenza, nephritis (kidney inflammation), laryngitis, congenital heart disease, enteritis, epilepsy, spinal bifida, chicken pox, general oedema (dropsy), coeliac disease, birth injury, sudden circulatory failure, and fit."

This is typical of a period where serious illness was widespread in a country which had very limited if any access to vaccines or antibiotics, and in an environment where nurses might go from the fever hospital to the Homes and back again on the same day.

Hollywood and the entertainment industry jumped on the bandwagon too, releasing and lauding a movie called "Philomena". The plot of the story is as follows:

In 1951, Philomena became pregnant after having sex with a man she did not know at a county fair, and was sent by her father to Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea in Ireland. After giving birth, she was forced to work in the convent laundry for four years, with little contact with her son. The nuns gave her son up for adoption without giving Philomena a chance to say goodbye. She kept her lost son a secret from her family for nearly fifty years. She then goes on a quest to find her missing son.

This Weinstein production attracted applause and uncritical approval from the likes of Time magazine, which stated "Many other Irish women found themselves in similar situations [pregnant out-of-wedlock at age 18 in 1952] but, unlike Lee, never managed to find the children who were taken from them."

An in-depth analysis of the movie was undertaken by American researcher Bill Donohue, extracts from which are presented here:

"All of this was a lie because Philomena Lee never found her son: he died in 1995 and was buried on the grounds at the very convent that took her in when she was in need. She was lying about this because it fit with the lie about her looking frantically for him for 50 years. In the movie, she was depicted as searching for her son in the United States.

Philomena Lee never set foot in the United States until last November when she went to Los Angeles to hawk her movie."

"Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe added to the lies when he said the nuns “gave him [the son] away to an American family behind Philomena’s back.” In fact, Philomena voluntarily signed adoption papers relinquishing custody of her son when she was 22 years of age."

"Steve Coogan, a producer and screenplay writer for the film “Philomena,” was recently quoted in The Sunday Times (of London) as saying that the nuns asked Philomena Lee’s son, Anthony, “to pay thousands of pounds to be buried” on the grounds of Sean Ross Abbey. “We didn’t put that in the film. We were restrained.” He also stated that “The film offers an olive branch to the church in showing Philomena’s forgiveness. She dignifies her religion.”

Furthermore, Steve Coogan concluded his remarks with this gem: “The Catholic League is a conservative wing of the Catholic church. They say no fee was charged for Anthony’s adoption, but they [the nuns] did ask for a large donation. Well, call me stupid, but that sounds like a financial transaction.”

Sister Julie Rose, an official at the convent in question, flatly denied charging a fee. “No children were sold by any mother or the congregation, to any party, nor did the congregation receive any monies in relation to adoption while we were running the mother and baby home.” Even the author of the book upon which “Philomena” is based admits that it was “customary for the adopting party to make a donation,” but that it was not mandatory.

So, yes, anyone who cannot distinguish between a fee and a donation is, in fact, stupid. On that we agree.

Coogan was also a guest of Bill Maher on his HBO show, “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Maher said there were 60,000 Philomenas in Ireland, women who had children out-of-wedlock and gave their children up for adoption. Coogan claimed they were “maltreated and eventually their babies were sold to Americans.”

Bill Maher also said that Philomena Lee “looks like a slave in the movie,” stating she worked long hours in the laundries. Coogan went further by contending that the women “were victims of actual slavery,” and were “incarcerated against their will.”

No woman was ever incarcerated against her will in any of the laundries: every last one of the women came to the nuns—the nuns did not fetch the troubled women.

Moreover, they were not mistreated, never mind enslaved, and no babies were sold. How do we know this? One year ago, the Irish government released the McAleese Report on the Magdalene Laundries: it debunks these myths, and many more, yet people like Maher and Coogan have continued to promote them."

"The Independent.ie (Irish Independent) ran a story by Liz O’Donnell on “Philomena” saying that Philomena Lee’s “child was stolen by the nuns.” This is incorrect: the 18-year-old Lee, pregnant out-of-wedlock, was taken to the nuns by her widowed father, hoping they would care for the baby. They did. At age 22, Lee voluntarily signed a contract awarding the nuns her son. The nuns then got her a job. That is the undisputed truth.

At the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, “Philomena” won the Adapted Screenplay prize. Dame Judi Dench, who played Philomena Lee, did not win Best Actress, but had they had an award for Biggest Fool, she would have won going away: at the awards ceremony, she flashed her butt in front of Oprah Winfrey; tattooed on it was the name Weinstein, in reference to the film’s distributor, Harvey Weinstein. Dench is 79.

“Good Morning America” on ABC also interviewed Coogan; In the voice over, the following was said: “Philomena is based on a true story about an Irishwoman played by Judi Dench who travels to the U.S. to track down the son she was forced to give up for adoption when she was a teenager.”

In his remarks, Coogan said that 50 years ago in Ireland, women who were pregnant out-of-wedlock, and abandoned by their family, would go to homes run by nuns where “your child would be sold to Catholic, often American, wealthy American couples.”

In regards to the lie that Philomena went to the United States to look for her son, here is what Suzanne Daley and Douglas Dalby wrote in the New York Times on November 29, 2013: “In fact, much of the movie is a fictionalized version of events. Ms. Lee, for instance, never went to the U.S. to look for her son with Mr. Sixsmith, who is played by Steve Coogan, a central part of the film.”

Not only did Philomena Lee voluntarily sign an oath when she was 22 giving her son up for adoption, in the film itself, Dench says, “No one coerced me. I signed of my own free will.”

Regarding the lie about Philomena’s baby being sold, in the book by Martin Sixsmith upon which the film is based, he states that, “While neither the NCCC [National Conference of Catholic Charities] nor Sean Ross Abbey [the convent where Philomena resided] charge any fees, it is customary for the adopting party to make a donation….” Moreover, the nuns at the abbey today insist that no fee was charged.

These lies were aided and abetted by many in the media, for reasons that only underscore the existence of the Catholic League.

In a recent news story by BBC, Chris Buckler, the BBC Ireland Correspondent, wrote Philomena Lee’s child was “taken away from her. When her son Anthony was three-and-a-half years old, the nuns in the convent gave him up for adoption to an American couple. It all happened behind Philomena’s back.”

This is a lie. The proof is the oath that Philomena signed. Here is what it said:

“That I am the mother of Anthony Lee who was born to me out of wedlock at Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, on 5th July 1952.

“That I hereby relinquish full claim forever to my said child Anthony Lee and surrender said child to Sister Barbara, Superioress of Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, Ireland.

“The purpose of this relinquishment is to enable Sister Barbara to make my child available for adoption to any person she considers fit and proper inside or outside the state.

“That I further undertake never to attempt to see, interfere with or make any claim to the said child at any future time.”

This oath was signed by Philomena Lee. Below her signature, it says:

“Subscribed and sworn to by the said Philomena Lee as her free act and deed this 27th day of June 1955.” Signed, Desmond A. Houlihan, notary public."

Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby homes

Before talking about how the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby homes have been handled by the media recently, it's helpful to look back at how they started and developed. This information is not presented in order to make the Irish Mother and Baby Homes or Magdalene Laundries appear better by comparison - it is shared to provide a clear context in which to understand the culture of the time.

In fact, the Irish Magdalene Laundries stand up quite well to scrutiny without needing any comparisons to look better.

The first "laundry" was called the Magdalen Hospital for the Reception of Penitent Prostitutes, and it was set up in 1758 by a silk merchant in London. These institutions quickly spread through England, Scotland, Wales, the US, Australia, Norway, Canada, and of course Ireland.

The first Laundries in Ireland were opened and operated by the Anglican church and only admitted protestant women. Towards the end of the 19th century the Catholic Church took over the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland. For the first half of the twentieth century, there are many records of how other European countries treated women who had children out of wedlock as their Laundries and similar facilities closed.

These were nations which promoted eugenics, an ideology which sought to purge the "unfit" from society, labelling unmarried mothers "feeble-minded", imprisoning them and sterilising them against their will, all in the name of science. The idea was to remove undesireable genes from humanity, in the same fashion as one might breed dogs, and thus bring forth a perfect world of peace and harmony. This pseudo-Darwinistic belief system would have been rejected by Darwin himself, although he predicted it would make an appearance.

In the early to mid twentieth century a number of countries legalised the non-consensual sterilisation of women who behaved immorally, including the US, Canada, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden. More than half of US states had compulsory sterilisation laws in 1968.

In Denmark, in order to protect society against "a visible dissolution of sexual morals among women", the Danish authorities opened an institution on an island, close to Copenhagen, where "slightly imbecile, erotic girls" were confined and sterilised. It was widely believed throughout Scandinavia that ‘the "degenerate" were more promiscuous, had more children and threatened social order. In Switzerland, where compulsory sterilisations were carried out on the basis of agreements between local authorities and doctors, most sterilisations were carried out on unmarried, socially deprived women with children born out of wedlock who were categorised as maladjusted, sexually promiscuous, mentally disabled or feebleminded.

In the 19th century in the UK, women were singled out in some places by having to wear a special uniform which drew attention to their status as unmarried mothers.

The Mental Deficiency Act in the UK in 1913 brought into being a legal entity known as the "feeble-minded person" that was used to imprison women who had children outside of marriage so they wouldn't be able to become pregnant again.

After the second world war, women who had children outside of marriage in the UK were viewed as "a prime example of something which interrupted the proper functioning of social processes, and revealed a failure of social control, the control of individual behaviour by family and kin, by political and education authority, by all the influences which persuade most people to obey the established order. The conditions which were associated with high illegitimacy levels in any one locality tended to be thought of as pathological, and the individuals who engendered bastards as in some way victimized, disordered, even mentally abnormal."

In 1931, Labour MP Archibald Church proposed a bill for the compulsory sterilisation of certain categories of "mental patient", including the "mentally abnormal" in Parliament. Although such legislation was never actually passed in Britain, this did not prevent many sterilisations being carried out under various forms of coercion.

As Carolyn Oldfield explains in her PhD thesis entitled, ‘Growing up Good? Medical, Social Hygiene and Youth Work Perspectives on Young Women, 1918-1939’: “While this incarceration could extend throughout women’s fertile years and after, authorities directed their efforts towards identifying and segregating adolescent and young adult women, in order to prevent what was expected to be a cycle of repeated pregnancies and short-term recourse to the workhouse”.

An estimated 185,000 children were taken from unmarried mothers and adopted between 1949 and 1976 in England and Wales.
Women and girls who became pregnant outside of marriage during these decades were seen as having shamed themselves and their families, the committee said, and babies were taken from mothers who did not want to let them go.

The Dutch thought along similar lines. From the mid-1950s the moral-religious discourse was replaced with a psychiatric discourse in which the single mother was no longer represented as a sinner who had to do penance, but as a woman suffering from psychiatric illness.

So this was the context against which the Irish Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby homes operated.

It was a tapestry of barbaric practices and beliefs which would unquestionably have spread to Ireland too, if it wasn't for the resistance of the Catholic Church. In 1930 the Papal Encyclical Casti Connubii categorically condemned in clear and unmistakable terms the eugenic ideology and laws that were taking root across the "civilised" world.

All of this information is contained in the official Irish government report on the Mother and Baby Homes, along with a great deal more. The contrast between how unmarried mothers were dealt with in more secular societies and how they were dealt with in Catholic Ireland could hardly be more stark, despite the greater poverty in an Ireland still struggling to escape from the scars of harsh and instransigent colonial rule. Dublin city, for example, was home to the largest slums in Europe up until around the 1950s. Not council estates, not impoverished or deprived areas, but bona fide slums.

Most of the headlines and commentaries about the Irish Laundries are extraordinary, with phrases like "the Irish Holocaust" and "the Irish gulag system" being freely used by politicians and the press, along with "Slave Labor", "moral horrors", "inhuman punishments", "deep-seated greed and corruption, whips, forced-labor", "difficult not to be reminded of a World War II concentration camp", "the women were stripped and laughed at", "sadistic and indefensible", "a gruesome practice" and so on.

Except as the official Irish government report, the McAleese Report on the Magdalene Laundries, or more fully known as "Report of the Inter-Developmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalene Laundries" discovered, these headlines do not represent reality.

In a society with no social welfare, grinding poverty and few alternatives for women, the Laundries served as refuges for women who might otherwise have turned to prostitution, or who had already done so. Nobody forced women into these institutions, they arrived and left voluntarily, unlike the lunatic asylums where many other women ended up.

Neither were the Laundries centres of profit for greedy nuns - in fact the report found they "operated on a subsistence or close to break-even basis, rather than on a commercial or highly profitable basis and would have found it difficult to survive financially without other sources of income—donations, bequests and financial support from the State."

The McAleese Report examined all of the ten Magdalene Laundries in existence before the foundation of the State - none were established afterwards. Among the five areas it looked at were routes of entry, state inspections, and routes of exit. "In each of these areas, the Committee found evidence of direct State involvement." The Laundries were subject to and compliant with the Factories act, including regular inspections, "and that when minor breaches occurred, they were remedied when brought to the attention of the operating Congregation."

Around ten thousand women passed through the Laundries in total, fewer than the far higher numbers put about by certain politicians and media outlets. The average length of stay for these women was seven months, with eighty percent staying less than three years. Most didn't know who their parents were, and only one in eight said both parents were alive. A quarter had been previously institutionalised.

Only two percent of these women ran away, with seven percent being dismissed, and the majority leaving on their own, either going home, finding a job - often with help from the nuns - or being reclaimed by a family member.

But by far the biggest headlines were reserved for claims of abuse, mistreatment and violence. Here is a selection of quotations from doctors who attended the Laundries, taken from the McAleese report:

Dr. Michael Coughlan:

Dr. John Ryan:

Dr. Donal Kelly:

Dr. Harry Comber:

Dr. Malachy Coleman:

The word "torture" does not appear in the McAleese report, because it wasn't found to have occurred. Only one woman was found to have been sexually abused, but this act was committed by a lay woman, not a nun. None of the 118 women interviewed by the report authors had even heard of another woman being molested within the Laundries.

The report continues "A large majority of the women who shared their stories with the Committee said that they had neither experienced nor seen girls or women suffer physical abuse in the Magdalen Laundries." The industrial schools were a different matter of course, but they were run by the state. "None of the women told the Committee that their heads had been shaven, with one exception. The exception occurred where one woman had her head shaved because she had lice."

One of the most prominent expressions of misplaced anger at the Irish Magdalene Laundries can be found in the movie "The Magdalene Sister", by Peter Mullan. This individual has previously stated that "There is not much difference between the Catholic Church and the Taliban". He also declared that  "The worst thing about the Catholic Church is that it imprisons your soul, your mind and your d***."

Valerio Riva of the Venice Film Festival subsequently compared Mullan to Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's Nazi movie director. If we were to try to find an unbiased or balanced account of the Laundries, it would seem Peter Mullan's output and that of his fellow travellers would be the last place to look.

Many thanks to the Catholic League for their efforts in compiling this information.

More recently, the Irish state has abandoned plans to amend the abovementioned report by including testimony from various individuals.

"In June 2021, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman announced plans to bring proposals to Cabinet to appoint an international human rights expert to re-examine the written testimony given to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, and report back this year.

...A spokesperson for Mr O'Gorman has confirmed to the Irish Examiner that he no longer plans to carry out this independent review.

...A Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the Department of Children reveals that the review never progressed beyond a “draft outline” of a proposed memorandum for Government on June 14 last year.

...as anything contained in the main report of the commission had to "meet robust legal standards of evidence"".

In October 2022, the Irish government under the auspices of Minister Roderic O'Gorman declared it had approved almost a billion euros in reparations for those who had been in Mother and Baby homes.

"Applicants will qualify solely based on proof of residency, without a need to bring forward any evidence of abuse nor any medical evidence."

Eugene Jordan has written an article in response to this development, which touches on many of the relevant issues. Excerpts are provided below:

"The Irish taxpayer is about to be defrauded of another €800 million to be paid in compensation.

Astonishingly, the compensation is to be paid by the Irish government in spite of the findings of its own commission of investigation that no abuse took place at mother and baby homes.

In several recent TV interviews, the chief promoter of the scandal, Catherine Corless has stated, and restated her claim that children were starved to death at these institutions.

However, after seven long years of investigation, the commission found that not one single child was starved to death at any of these institutions. Moreover, the commission was set up as a direct result of Corless’s allegations and it found no evidence to substantiate her other allegations.


In the trade, the act of leaving out important information is known as ‘lying by omission’ and a mountain of evidence has been omitted by the scandal promoters, journalists and broadcasters. The commission report included testimonies from former residents that they were well treated by the nuns, the homes were their refugee and were grateful for their kindness. Many women escaped from violent, incestuous and abusive homes. Although their testimonies have been published in the Commission’s final report, not one has appeared in any Irish news publication. Moreover, it is very hard to find in the mainstream media, stories that would have allowed readers to contemplate a more rational and sensible interpretation of historical events."

Reaping the harvest of hate

People should also take a moment to consider the outcome of aligning themselves with falsehoods and hatred. Christians, primarily Catholics, are the single most persecuted group in the world today.

By supporting and perpetuating harmful untruths about the Church, those who do so - especially journalists - contribute to an environment where aggression and violent actions against the faithful are normalised, leading inevitably to widespread persecution of the sort which would have been quite at home in Germany circa 1941.

Is that the sort of society we want to build, the legacy we want to leave behind?

The most beautiful journey

If you would like to learn about practical everyday ways you can grow in the Faith, you can find some thoughts and suggestions in the fundamentals section. If you have questions or reservations about Catholic teachings, take a look at the section on understanding.


No one in the world can change truth.  What we can do and what we should do is seek truth and serve it when we have found it.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life to save another in Auschwitz concentration camp

Explore Saints and Scholars

Anger is a serpent

Depend upon it, it is better to learn how to live without being angry than to imagine one can moderate and control anger lawfully; and if through weakness and frailty one is overtaken by it, it is far better to put it away forcibly than to parley with it; for give anger ever so little way, and it will become master, like the serpent, who easily works in its body wherever it can once introduce its head.

- St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life


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