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Catholic-bashers have embellished the truth about abuse in Catholic institutions. It’s time to put the record straight

By Brendan O'Neill, Telegraph

The publication last week of the Irish government's McAleese Report on the Magdalene laundries has proved kind of awkward for Catholic-bashers. For if McAleese's thorough, 1,000-page study is to be believed, then it would appear that those laundries were not as evil and foul as they had been depicted over the past decade. Specifically the image of the laundries promoted by the popular, much-lauded film The Magdalene Sisters – which showed them as places where women were stripped, slapped, sexually abused and more – has been called into question by McAleese. This has led even The Irish Times, which never turns down an opportunity to wring its hands over Catholic wickedness, to say: "There is no escaping the fact that the [McAleese] report jars with popular perceptions."
 
In the Irish mind, and in the minds of everyone else who has seen or read one of the many films, plays and books about the Magdalene laundries, these were horrific institutions brimming with violence and overseen by sadistic, pervy nuns. Yet the McAleese Report found not a single incident of sexual abuse by a nun in a Magdalene laundry. Not one. Also, the vast majority of its interviewees said they were never physically punished in the laundries. As one woman said, "It has shocked me to read in papers that we were beat and our heads shaved and that we were badly treated by the nuns… I was not touched by any nun and I never saw anyone touched." The small number of cases of corporal punishment reported to McAleese consisted of the kind of thing that happened in many normal schools in the 1960s, 70s and 80s: being caned on the legs or rapped on the knuckles. The authors of the McAleese Report, having like the rest of us imbibed the popular image of the Magdalene laundries as nun-run concentration camps, seem to have been taken aback by "the number of women who spoke positively about the nuns".
 
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