Ireland’s disappeared

Magdalenes? What Magdalenes?

…it was Ireland’s hidden scandal: an estimated 30,000 women were sent to church-run laundries, where they were abused and worked for years with no pay. Their offense, in the eyes of society, was to break the strict sexual rules of Catholic Ireland, having children outside wedlock.

Their “offense” – but it wasn’t a mere offense, was it, it was a crime. We know this because of what the passage says: the women were imprisoned for years. They got the kind of sentence a convicted murderer gets. They were locked up, for years, and abused and worked for no pay. That’s an extremely harsh prison sentence – for having children outside marriage.

Until recently, the Catholic Church was the ultimate moral authority in Ireland, and it promoted strict rules on sex. In this climate, the shame of giving birth to an illegitimate child was so great that many unmarried mothers were rejected by their families. They were taken out of “decent society” and put into Magdalene laundries by members of the clergy, government institutions and their own families.

In Ireland it was a crime to have a child outside marriage – a crime for a woman, that is; naturally no man was ever locked up and worked for years for that crime – but it wasn’t a crime to imprison women without trial and treat them like shit for many years. That’s Catholic morality – sex is the worst crime there is, as long as it’s not a priest doing it, and imprisoning, abusing and exploiting girls and women is no crime at all. That’s Catholic priorities. That’s what life is like when the church gets to run everything.

I’d like Karen Armstrong to explain that.

The Magdalene laundries were a network of profit-making workhouses run by four religious communities — the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity, the Good Shepherd Sisters and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity…

Magdalene women worked long hours, typically seven days a week, without pay. There have been accounts of the harsh conditions the women endured, including allegations of mental, physical and, in some cases, sexual abuse. Many lived and died behind convent walls until the last laundry closed in 1996.

Because they had sex. Life imprisonment at hard labor for having sex.

The Irish government acknowledged as far back as 2001 that the Magdalene women were victims of abuse but says that because the laundries were privately run, they are outside its remit. It has resisted numerous calls for a statutory inquiry, the latest from the Irish Human Rights Commission in November 2010. The government also rejected proposals for compensation, saying that the state “did not refer individuals, nor was it complicit in referring individuals to the laundries.”

However, there is evidence that the state was involved. The Irish courts routinely sent women who were handed down a suspended sentence for petty crimes to the laundries, which operated as a kind of parallel detention system.

Public records show the government also awarded lucrative contracts to the nuns for its army and hospital laundry without ever insisting on fair wages for the “workers,” nor did it inspect conditions inside.

Testimony from Magdalene women claim that state employees like the Irish police force and social workers brought women to the laundries and returned those who had escaped.

It’s foul.

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