The other history of abuse in Catholic Ireland

Many NCR readers may remember the 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, which tells the largely unknown story of Irish women who were forced to labor in laundries for breaking Catholic Ireland's strict sexual codes. In most cases, these women were caught giving birth out of wedlock.

It is estimated that more than 30,000 women were sentenced to work in these laundries, which were run by orders of women religious. The conditions were harsh, and many survivors recount stories of physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Though the Irish government denies having a role in these private run laundries, there is evidence that state officials routinely sentenced women offenders to the laundries. Records also indicate that the nuns were given lucrative government contracts to support these programs.

For two years, the advocacy group Justice for Magdalenes has lobbied the Irish government to investigate the laundries, but to no avail.

Ireland's silence forced Justice for Magdalenes to take their case to the United Nations. Their submission detailed the human rights violations that took place in the laundries. Last week, they were invited to make a statement before the UN Committee Against Torture.

Visit EarthBeat, NCR's new reporting project that explores the ways Catholics and other faith groups are taking action on the climate crisis.

Like the sexual abuse crisis, this history of abuse demonstrates the long legacy and swift fall of the Catholic church's moral authority in Ireland.

A detailed story can be found at The New York Times.


Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here

Advertisement