Don’t expect to hear much in the U.S. media about the stunning McAlleese Report, especially since the mythology of vicious, vile, and abusive Irish nuns running the the Magdalene Laundries has been so firmly established by Hollywood and the lame-stream media in recent years. The 1,000-page long “Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries” is the result of an in-depth and wide-ranging investigation into the infamous Laundries (a big tip of the hat to Dave Pierre, Jr., of TheMediaReport.com).
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”.
As O’Neill points out, the approach taken by many media members now is that, well, hey, even if many or all of the more sensational accusations were false or wildly embellished, at least they did good by pointing out, uh, problems. He writes, “The idea of the ‘good lie’, the lie which helps open people’s eyes to the existence of wickedness, should be anathema to anyone who cares about getting history right and establishing the truth.” You would think. But, of course, the approach taken is a tried and true one. Just look at the example of Pope Pius XII, who no one thought was responsible for the persecution and death of Jews—until an anti-Catholic German playwright wrote “The Deputy” in the early 1960s, setting in motion the now prevalent—and false—image of an anti-Semitic, passive pontiff.
I’ve not, of course, read the entire Report, but here are a couple of important passages; first, from Chapter 19, which describes living and work conditions:
i. Sexual abuse
31. One woman told the Committee that she was subjected to sexual abuse by an auxiliary during her time in a Magdalen Laundry. She was not aware of this happening to anyone else. Auxiliaries, referred to variously as “consecrates” or “magdalenes”, were women who, having entered a Magdalen Laundry, decided to remain there for life.
32. No other women in contact with the Committee made any allegation of sexual abuse during their time in the Magdalen Laundries. However a significant number told the Committee that they had suffered sexual abuse in the family home or in other institutions, either before or after their time in the Magdalen Laundries.
ii. Physical abuse
33. A large majority of the women who shared their stories with the Committee said that they had neither experienced nor seen other girls or women suffer physical abuse in the Magdalen Laundries.
34. In this regard, women who had in their earlier lives been in an industrial or reformatory school drew a clear distinction between their experiences there and in the Magdalen Laundries, stating clearly that the widespread brutality which they had witnessed and been subjected to in industrial and reformatory schools was not a feature of the Magdalen Laundries.
Get that? Almost none of the women interviewed suffered physical or sexual abuse in the care of Catholic nuns, but many did while in secular institutions. (The Report notes that many of the women were “dumped” in the Laundries by families, the State, and former “lovers”. Surprise.) But it’s even worse than that, for the Report itself suggests that the abuses that took place in secular institutions were then, somehow, transferred onto the situations in the Magdalen Laundries:
Consequently, this absence of direct information about the living and working conditions within the Magdalen Laundries has been largely replaced by historical (pre-State) experience and fictional writings or representations. It is also likely that assumptions have been made regarding these institutions based on the evidence of the grievous abuse suffered by male and female children in Industrial and Reformatory Schools in Ireland throughout the twentieth century.
Imagine if this were the other way around: woman had been abused in Catholic institutions, then put into much safer, humane secular institutions, which were then vilified for allegedly committing abuses against them. The outrage, without doubt, would be loud and endless. But in this case, it’s lights out and lots of crickets. Let’s give O’Nell, the atheist, the final word on this ridiculous and sad assult on truth:
Catholic-bashers frequently accuse the Catholic religion of promoting a childish narrative of good and evil that is immune to factual evidence. Yet they do precisely the same, in the service of their fashionable and irrational new religion of anti-Catholicism.
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