Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries: Enslaved Women in a Modern World

I’m not sure how I didn’t know about this sooner.  A report in TIME World from last week caught my eye.  It seems that Americans were kept pretty much in the dark about this terrible atrocity:

They were the forgotten women of Ireland, kept under lock and key, forced to clean and sew, and to wash away the sins of their previous life while never being paid a penny. Some stayed months, others years. Some never left. They were the inmates of Ireland’s notorious 20th century workhouses, the Magdalene Laundries. And this week, with the publication of a government report into the dark history of the laundries, the women came that much closer to obtaining justice.

The laundries — a beneficent-sounding word that helped hide the mistreatment that took place inside their walls — were operated by four orders of Catholic nuns in Ireland from 1922 to 1996. Over 10,000 young women, considered a burden by family, school and the state, spent an average of six months to a year locked up in these workhouses doing unpaid, manual work. Some were kept there against their will for years. Their numbers were made up by unmarried mothers and their daughters, women and girls who had been sexually abused, women with mental or physical disabilities who were unable to live independently, and young girls who had grown up under the care of the church and the state. The laundries were “a mechanism that society, religious orders and the state came up with to try and get rid of people deemed not to be conforming to the so-called mythical, cultural purity that was supposed to be part of Irish identity,” Irish historian Diarmaid Ferriter told Ireland’s national broadcasting service, RTE, this week. Known as the fallen women, the workers were only entitled to leave if signed out by a family member or if a nun found a position of work for them, and if they tried to escape the confines of the home they were brought back by the Irish police.

via Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries: Report Exposes a National Shame |

This is very dark.  Some estimate as many as 30,000 women have gone through these slave mills.

There are a lot of implications here.  How many Popes knew about this?  When the laundries stopped running in 1996 (at least, I hope they have stopped), that was during John Paul II’s tenure.  Did he know about these laundries?

Catholic enslavement of women: Just another reason why I’m an apostate.

Here is where you can go to find out more and where you can find ways to help.

4 Responses

  1. Such ‘Christian charity’. There’s been a problem of nuns beating children in the UK and Ireland, also. Vicious beatings, not just what passed for ‘normal’ school discipline. So much for hating the sin but loving the sinner. (In these cases, there wasn’t much you’d call sin, was there?)

  2. Just because the man is Pope doesn’t mean he has knowledge of everything that happens in the universal Church. I’d find it rather improbable that he did, given there wasn’t any public outcry. One has to remember that the government of Ireland contracted out to these institutions. Sadly, however, it was a failure on the part of Christians. Even though I agree this was the case, and even if the Pope knew about it and did nothing out of deep-seated moral evil (which is rather hard to chalk up to JP II), I don’t follow the reasoning to leaving the Church. Having true beliefs doesn’t imply moral impeccability (as I imagine you agree with Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, but don’t require them to be saints).

  3. Michael,

    I doubt that highly. Ratzinger was a micro-manager and someone who had detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the church; he must have, being the head guy in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I find your apologetically-minded defense of him to weak in that regard–touching, but weak.

    As for leaving the church, it isn’t just this one thing (the enslavement of women), it is multiple things (coverups for clergy molesting children, moving them around instead of defrocking them so they could molest even more children, the anti-condom campaigns in Africa where there is a need for repress the growing HIV/AIDs epidemic, some anti-science positions of the church, anti-woman positions of the church, money laundering by the Vatican Bank, business deals and investments in real estate by the church while millions of poor die of starvation each day, etc…) that have led me to my decision. Any corporation this corrupt does not deserve a penny from me and certainly is not worthy of my respect. The “deep-seated” evil is not just one person, one Pope or cardinal or bishop; it is the whole damned institution.

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