Something I missed last July – Bill Donohue aka “The Catholic League” explains how wonderful Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries were, contrary to all the “myths” about them.
One contemporary example of prejudice is the popular perception of the nuns who ran Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries.
From the mid-eighteenth century to the late nineteenth century, the laundries housed “fallen” girls and women in England and Ireland. Though they did not initiate the facilities, most of the operations were carried out by the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy, Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. The first “Magdalene Home” was established in England in 1758; Ireland followed in 1765 (the first asylum being a Protestant-run entity).
Notice the breezy way he accepts the category “fallen” – in scare quotes, to be sure, but not distanced or questioned in any other way. He doesn’t pause to explain that this refers to girls and women who had sex, and singles them out as “fallen” while completely ignoring their male colleagues in the enterprise of having sex. Notice also the benign “housed” when what he means is “imprisoned.”
The popular perception of the laundries is entirely negative, owing in large part to fictionalized portrayals in the movies. The conventional wisdom has also been shaped by writers who have come to believe the worst about the Catholic Church, and by activists who have their own agenda. So strong is the prejudice that even when evidence to the contrary is presented, the bias continues.
No citations for any of that, of course. No mention of the survivors, and their testimony about what the laundries were like, unless that’s what he means by “writers” – women who were actually there and know firsthand what it was like.
On his way to minimizing the laundries he pauses to minimize the industrial “schools” too.
Media commentary about the laundries eventually led to an investigation about the treatment of wayward youth in every Irish institution. In 2009, Ireland’s Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse published its findings; it became known as the Ryan Report (after the chairman of the Commission, Justice Seán Ryan).
News stories about the Ryan Report quickly emerged maintaining that abuse was rampant in these institutions. Upon closer inspection, however, we learn that the Ryan Commission listed four types of abuse: physical, sexual, neglect and emotional. Most of the evidence showed there were no serious violations. For example, physical abuse included “being kicked”; sexual abuse was considered “kissing,” “non-contact including voyeurism” and “inappropriate sexual talk”; neglect included “inadequate heating”; and “lack of attachment and affection” was deemed emotional abuse.
Even by today’s standards in the West, these conditions are hardly draconian; in the past they were considered pedestrian. And consider the timeline: fully 82 percent of the incidents reported took place before 1970. As the New York Times noted, “many of them [are] now more than 70 years old.” Keep in mind that corporal punishment was not uncommon in many homes (and in many parts of the world), never mind in facilities that housed troubled persons.
Note that first sentence – note the phrase”wayward youth” for the children locked up in those industrial not-schools. Many of those children were simply the children of parents who didn’t have enough money; many more were simply the children of mothers who weren’t married. Then go on to notice his callous relativism about what went on in the schools, and feel sick.
He tries to argue that the women in the laundries were free to leave.
The majority of women either left on their own, went home, were reclaimed by a family member, or left for employment. Only 7.1 percent were dismissed or “sent away,” and less than two percent ran away. One might have thought that if Mullan’s depiction were accurate, a lot more than 1.9 percent would have run for the hills. That so few did is further testimony of the bogus portrayal he offered.
Say what? You’d think more would have run away? They were prevented from running away – that’s the whole point. They weren’t “sheltered” as he tries to maintain, they were locked up. The fact that few succeeded in escaping is not evidence that they were not locked up. (He slips by saying “ran away” at all. You don’t run away unless you’re not free to walk away.)
He’s a callous unfeeling church-protecting shit, Donohue is.
Physical abuse was uncommon. “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 Report notes. But they did say that in their time in an industrial reformatory school there were instances of brutality. As for the laundries, a typical complaint was, “I don’t ever remember anyone being beaten but we did have to work very hard.” Another common criticism went like this: “No they never hit you in the laundry. They never hit me, but the nun looked down on me ‘cause I had no father.”
Clearly he wants us to roll our eyes at what a trivial complaint this is. Fuck that. It is not trivial. Priest-ridden Ireland’s way of looking down on people for reasons of that kind was cruel and corrosive, and not a thing to be minimized. Marie-Thérèse has told us a great deal about what that was like, and it’s scorching.
Donohue is a very bad man.
H/t Lola Heavey.