The Sisters of “Charity”

The Irish government, for some fuck-unknown reason, is giving ownership of an expensive new maternity hospital to…wait for it…the “Sisters of Charity” – you know, the order that tortured all those generations of children in industrial “schools” for the crime of being poor and / or born to unmarried parents. Emer O’Toole tells the story.

In 2009 the Ryan report into child sexual abuse in state-funded, church-run institutions was published, costing the Irish taxpayer €82m. It uncovered decades of abuse endured by children in the ostensible care of Catholic organisations including the Sisters of Charity. This is the order of nuns that will be given ownership of the €300m state-of-the-art new National Maternity Hospital by the Irish government, They will be the “sole owners” of the taxpayer-funded facility.

The Sisters of Charity were once involved in the operation of five residential schools. I will tell you some of what happened at just one of them.

At St Joseph’s Industrial school in Kilkenny, little girls as young as eight who complained of molestation by male lay staff were ignored, disbelieved or blamed for their abuse. Children were told their mothers were prostitutes. Children were fostered out to paedophiles. On three occasions the nuns hired paedophile lay workers, then failed to act when informed by children and sometimes by concerned adults about what was happening. Children were subject to severe corporal punishment right up until the 1990s.

I read quite a lot of the Ryan report when it came out. It’s enough to give you nightmares.

The Sisters of Charity also ran Magdalene Laundries, where unmarried mothers were incarcerated and forced to atone for their sins by working in punitive industrial conditions without pay. The McAleese report, published in 2013, aimed to determine the level of Irish state involvement in the Laundries. It found plenty. The inquiry cost the Irish taxpayer €11,000, and the government’s redress scheme up to €58m. The Sisters of Charity have refused to contribute anything to survivors.

Which is especially interesting because those laundries made money. The orders kept the money but refuse to pay any restitution to women who were kept in slave labor for years, and in some cases decades.

Just to recap: the state spends €82m on a report that uncovers heinous abuses perpetrated by Catholic orders against the children it paid them to care for; it pays out over €1bn to the victims, while the godly shirk financial and moral responsibility. It spends €11,000 on a report into state involvement in the Magdalene Laundries, and finds itself culpable. It commits another €58m compensating women, while the cassocked again decree themselves blameless.

And it learns what? That Ireland needs further integration of church and state? That Catholic nuns are simply stellar candidates to whom to entrust women and children? Sure, why not gift them the National Maternity Hospital?

One reason why not? Savita Halappanavar.

The minister for health, Simon Harris, has insisted that Catholic ownership of the hospital will not influence the care it provides.

We can consider another hospital run by the Sisters of Charity to see how much credence to give that. At St Vincent’s, nuns sit on the board of directors and doctors must sign contracts promising adherence to the ethos of the hospital. The ethos stated on the hospital’s website is “to bring the healing love of Christ to all we serve.” The first stated core value is “respecting the sacredness of human life and the dignity and uniqueness of each person”, which, anyone fighting for reproductive rights in Ireland can tell you, is code for “every zygote has a soul”. If and when Irish women finally win abortion rights, will the National Maternity Hospital implement them?

No. Many Catholic hospitals in the US refuse to perform abortions. Is it likely that Catholic hospitals in Ireland would do better?

Barrister Claire Hogan points out that in Ireland, where gruesome medical histories of symphysiotomy and “compassionate hysterectomy” stem from Catholic mores, religious ethos has historically affected women’s medical treatment. The Institute of Obstetricians has expressed concern that even Ireland’s extremely restrictive abortion law, which allows for termination only in the case of threat to the life of the mother, will be compromised in a Catholic-controlled institution.

As it was in the case of Savita Halappanavar. She needed an abortion following an incomplete miscarriage but the hospital refused to perform it, so she died of the massive infection that resulted from PRM (premature rupture of membrane).

It seems the Irish government wants to see more of that.

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