January 21, 2021

Sex and Power: An Irish Perspective on the Abuse Scandal in the Catholic Church


Exactly a week ago, Chaplain Mike asked me if I had any insights I would like to share on the Catholic sex abuse scandals. I said I’d try and have something in by the end of the week, and I made some preliminary notes.

Then I left them sitting there on top of my desk and ignored them for six days straight. Today, late Sunday afternoon Irish time, I am finally sitting down to write this post. I don’t want to, and the only reason I’m doing it is because I said I would.

I don’t want to write this. I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t even want to think about this, and that is the precise, exact “head in the sand” attitude that has caused so much harm and damage. I want to ignore the topic. I want to pretend it is all done and dealt with. I want to go on as if everything is fine now. Well, I can’t. I can’t pretend it all happened years ago and in some foreign country, and I can’t pretend all the buried secrets are not still oozing out their rottenness and polluting all that they touch.

And certainly I can’t pretend Holy Catholic Ireland is unscathed.

I won’t talk about the wider Church, since every country has a slightly different experience and reasons for what happened and the offences that were committed. I will stick to Ireland, and what follows is only my own personal opinion. I don’t have any special insight or inside information. I know as much as the rest of you do, when you read about yet another case in the papers or hear about it on the news.

The publicity at the end of February concerning the publication of the “Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries”  brought one aspect of the scandal about abuse committed by Church organisations back out into the open once again. If you’ve heard of these institutions, you probably know them from the movie made in 2002. To quote a 2004 review from an American newspaper which gives a good flavour of the reaction to the movie:

The film tells the story of “sinful” women who were, during the mid-1960s in Ireland, abandoned by their families for being raped and having children out of wedlock were sent to the Magdalene convent. There they would ostensibly find redemption through performing slave labor, washing clothes for the profits of the nuns in charge. The militant nuns who ran this labor camp were vile and contemptible women who spared no act of cruelty on the girls left to their care. Stripped and given severe beatings, these girls were slowly forced into obedience.

Well, so one more sordid example of wicked brutality meted out in the name of religion – so what? How can it be explained or explained away? Why even try?

I’m not going to try to explain it away. And if you want an explanation for it, the only one I have to give is “Sin.”

magdalene laundryThough this will sound like an attempt at self-justification, I want to say only this much at the start: first, elements of that movie were exaggerated or even invented for “dramatic effect” and admitted as much by the film-maker (who didn’t see why this was such a big deal). The stripping naked of the girls who were then mocked by the nuns? Didn’t happen. But so what if it didn’t exactly happen like that, we all know that those places were hotbeds of sexual abuse, right?

Wrong. The survivors have many justified complaints of physical and emotional abuse, but sexual abuse is not part of the institutional experience in those cases.

Okay, but it only happened in backwards repressed Ireland that women were locked up for the crime of becoming pregnant, right? All down to a society ruled by a puritanical Church that fears and hates sex!

Happened in other places that weren’t Ireland and weren’t Catholic. British Protestant women also ended up in homes for unwed mothers, and so did Americans, Australians and pretty much every country you care to mention. See this link.

Right, that’s as much palliation as I am going to engage in. From here on, I will just speak about the situation as I see it. The situation in Ireland is complicated, in that the blanket term “child abuse” or “religious/clerical abuse” is perceived by the public at large, thanks to the sex abuse cases that exploded into the public consciousness in America starting in the 80s. It’s also considered to be mostly cases of “priests raping children” as I’ve seen it described in online comments.

irish churchWhile that is certainly and horribly part of the case in Ireland, there are two main points I want to make:

(1) The term “abuse” when used in reports and investigations does not mean solely or even chiefly sexual abuse; it also encompasses physical and emotional abuse. To quote the definition from the Irish Barnados site:

“Children can be abused in a number of different ways. Usually these are categorized as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. A child may experience more than one type of abuse.”

(2) When talking about religious institutions, this includes not just the secular clergy but orders of religious men and women who ran reformatories, industrial schools, orphanages, asylums (in both the “mental health” sense and the older sense of “place of refuge”), schools and hospitals. I want you to understand the scale of how involved the Catholic Church was in what nowadays is considered the province of the State in providing social welfare and “safety net” establishments, as well as public services.

Okay, I had a whole long article planned out to give you the social and cultural background on the scandals in Ireland and why they happened and how could they have happened, but I can’t write it. I’m too heart-sick to do so. So I’ll just do a quick gallop through about ten decades’ worth of Irish history, and hope to God I don’t sound like I’m trying to extenuate or mitigate or whitewash the revelations. If you really want to know the details of the crimes and offences, you’re reading this over the Internet; go ahead and Google or use whatever your favourite search engine may be and you’ll find out more than enough about it all.

I absolutely was not joking when I said the short explanation for it all was sin, by the way. A slightly longer explanation might be to look at the Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13: 5-6:

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.”

What has this to do with the Irish abuse scandals? I’m going to do the typical thing when most Irish people are asked for an explanation of why x, y or z and start off with “Two hundred years ago…” Well, not quite that far. The early and mid 19th century is as far back as I’ll ask you to go. And I promise, this does have a point and a bearing on the matter.

1795: The Royal College of St. Patrick is established to provide “for the better education of persons professing the popish or Roman Catholic religion.” It functions as a university for Catholic lay and ecclesiastical students, most importantly as a seminary in order to stem the practice of Irish men going abroad to study for the priesthood (since this is illegal in Ireland) and becoming contaminated with dangerous revolutionary ideas from the French, Belgian and Spanish seminaries. It receives a government grant and the tacit understanding is that, in return for being permitted to train priests in Ireland, the Irish hierarchy will discourage all tendencies to rebellion amongst the populace by means of their influence and condemnation of potential agitators and rabble-rousers.

1829: The Catholic Emancipation Act. The majority of the legal penalties and disabilities attached to Roman Catholics in Great Britain and Ireland were removed, meaning – to quote Wikipedia – “The major beneficiaries were the Roman Catholic middle classes, who could now enter careers in the higher civil service and in the judiciary.” Catholics were now permitted to vote (if they fulfilled the property requirement), they could leave property to Catholic heirs, and they no longer had to be members of the Established Church (that is, the Church of Ireland or the Church of England) in order to get posts in government services. Most of all, they could openly practise their religion and even build new churches – but they still had to pay tithes to the official church, a requirement which was not abolished in full until 1869 when the Church of Ireland was disestablished (that is, it was no longer the official state church).

1845: The political controversy of the Maynooth Grant. The British Prime Minister of the time wants to increase the annual grant to the college. This raises much public and parliamentary ire in Britain because it is looked on as a bribe (which, to be frank, it more or less was) to the rebellious Papists to get them to behave and as a threat to the pure Protestant religion.

There were also those who thought government should have no part in supporting or paying for any private educational establishment, but that was too sensible and non-partisan an approach to gain widespread support.

What does all that mean? It means the newly-respectable Irish Catholics, both laity and clergy, were (a) very, very careful to hold on to the gains they had made and not give the British government any excuse to row back on them and (b) increasingly ambitious about obtaining a position in public life and increasing that influence.

Then we hit 1845-49 and the Great Famine. I cannot over-emphasise the effect this had on the Irish psyche, though you will think I am exaggerating. I’ve spoken about this before here, in regards to proselytization and “souperism” but I would like to run through a few facts. Again, I’m going to quote Wikipedia, which has a reasonably balanced and accurate article. It states concisely that “During the famine approximately one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%” and that the consequences were “permanent change in the country’s demographic, political and cultural landscape.”

That does not begin to describe it. There are no completely accurate figures for the population pre-Famine; estimates range from six million up as far as ten million. Going by the census of 1841, the generally accepted figure is eight million (for the entire island, that is, encompassing what would later be split between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland). Post-Famine, and that means a period ranging from 1850-1970, the population as a whole dips to around four million at its lowest (that is counting in Northern Ireland as well).

Eight million minus four million means four million gone. Poof! Disappeared! Not there! Not alone because of the death from starvation and disease during the Famine and the accompanying emigration of the desperate, but continuing long-term emigration over the decades. Imagine waking up in your home town and half your neighbours are no longer there. Imagine seeing faint traces on the landscape around where you live that show where towns and villages used to be, but are there no longer. Imagine walking into your children’s school and half the children in the class aren’t there today. Imagine having a word in your language that ordinarily means “graveyard” or “cemetery”, but when someone uses it about an otherwise indistinguishable field or an unused area of ground, you know it means “site of mass grave for those who died of hunger and disease”.

That is the kind of “demographic, political and cultural” change we’re talking about. Now, what is the point I am trying to make here in relation to the reeking mess of scandal in latter-day Ireland? It’s this: due to political and social circumstances, in pre-Famine Ireland the tendency was for early marriages and high fertility, particularly amongst the lower orders and the poor. Since Catholics could not inherit or will property from or to other Catholics, if a man had a farm or any sizeable amount of land, he would divide it up amongst all his sons. They, in turn, would further sub-divide what they had amongst their children and so forth. Because of the high yield food crop – the potato – this made it feasible for a man to marry and raise a family on a small patch of land; if you had an acre of potatoes and a pig, as the saying went, you could make a living. It wasn’t sustainable, of course, but the system staggered along pretty well until a crisis hit – a crisis like the Great Hunger.

confession-300x2251After the Famine, this all changed. The poor, the farm labourers, the landless, were the ones who suffered most. This meant that those who had land wanted even more land for economic security. A farm had to be a certain size to be viable. And since Catholics could now inherit property, a man could leave all his land to his eldest son upon his death instead of sub-dividing it during his life. It also meant that to be marriageable, a woman had to bring a dowry with her.

What this meant was that one son (and maybe only one daughter, who had a dowry to marry on) were provided for. The rest of the children? There was always the emigrant ship, since there wasn’t the industrialised base to absorb their labour.

Or there was religion. Yes, I’m finally tying it all together.

Remember, Irish Catholicism has become very respectable in response to pressure of political and public opinion from the British government and public. Couple that with a tendency in 19th century Irish Catholicism towards Jansenism, which meant a very rigid and rigorous and unforgiving parade of public piety, and the fact that some earnest British officials did actually blame the Famine as the just punishment of a rebellious and ungrateful (and even worse, papist) Irish populace by a wrathful God, and the urge to prove our probity and respectability and innocence of wrongdoing was even more pressing.

So any kind of slip, any kind of perception of sin, was not just dishonouring yourself, it was bringing disgrace on your family and on your nation. It was proving that the Irish were drunken, lecherous, criminal, rebellious types whose only hope of salvation was to turn towards becoming good British subjects and adopting the Protestant religion. Poverty was not a misfortune, it was a crime. And crime itself –- unforgiveable!

On the other hand, having a priest or a nun or a religious brother in the family brought good repute, gave the family high standing in public respect, and was a pledge of virtue in this life and heavenly reward in the next.

So a combination of lack of opportunity, lack of a mature understanding of sexuality, and social pressure meant that a lot of men and women who were not suited for the religious life entered monasteries and convents and teaching orders and seminaries. If they found, in the middle of their novitiate, that they were unsuited, there was little they could do. The disgrace of leaving – of being a “spoiled priest” or a nun who dropped out – meant that their families would be shamed and that they would have to emigrate anyway, with little or no formal education or trade to fall back on. So by default, they stayed where they were.

And since the State was not operating the range of social services we now expect them to run under the umbrella of public service, it was the Church and the religious orders who took up the slack. So untrained people were given responsibility and authority that they didn’t know how to handle in a culture where suffocating social conformity and outward respectability was the norm, and any deviation was seen as meriting firm discipline.

It’s easy to confuse discipline and physical abuse. When it’s the norm (even up to the 70s) for children to be slapped in school (that is, get strokes from a ruler or stick on the palm of the outstretched hand up to a count of six or ten) for not having homework done, or stumbling over rote recitation, then any complaints of being beaten are much too easily written off as looking for attention or exaggeration or lies.

Even after independence, the Irish state was happy to let the Church stay in charge of the institutions because it neither wanted nor could afford to take on the burden and responsibility. Even in liberated, secular, modern Ireland, the outlook is still not as good as it should be; from a Barnados report in 2011:

“Between 2000 and 2010, 513 separated children went missing from State care and 440 of them are still unaccounted for (Irish Times, 10th January 2011). Previously, hostels for separated children did not have round the clock trained childcare workers on site and were instead run by managers and security personnel.”

In other words, the state took on the care of 440 children whom it then lost, and the authorities have no idea whether they’re sleeping rough, back home, gone to England, or what happened them.

* * *

Catholic_confession-200x272That’s it. That’s all I’m going to say. You can read defences and apologias about the entire sorry mess of the abuse scandals online and in print, but they come off too much like “We didn’t do anything wrong!” and “It’s all fixed now!”, not to mention the conspiracy theorists who like to throw in rumours of plots and gay cabals and who knows what.

Oh yes, there have been false accusations. I personally know of two in my own town, and I was going to throw them into the mix. But I decided not to, since that comes over as blaming the victims, and God knows, that is the last thing we should be doing. I’m also not going to get into arguments about celibacy or gay rights or that religion as a whole is rotten and should be done away with. We have to admit: yes, this happened. Yes, the hierarchy reacted badly and in some instances criminally. Yes, we covered up because we were more afraid of our good name in the world than in serving justice or remembering the words of Mark 9:42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

The point of it all, in the end, is that people rightfully accuse the Church when these things come out. “How can you tell us that what you say is true? How can you tell us that we are committing sin, when you are doing worse things yourself?”

That’s the accusation that has to be answered, and it won’t be answered by bleating about the standards of the time gone by and the lack of understanding that we didn’t have until today. The scandal is that we are either lying when we say that knowing Christ will change you, or we do know Christ, but have not been changed. That leaves it all too easy to conclude that Christ is a liar, or that there is no change, or there is no Christ. And if we cause people to think that, it were indeed better for us all to cast ourselves into the sea or into the fire.

So why am I still a Catholic? Why don’t I come out of this corrupt and revealed to be wicked institution? Because I can’t go anywhere else. I can’t. I can’t go the road of “Okay, when the Church told you about the Gospel, it was true, but all the rest is false. We have the true parts, come to us”. I can’t do that, because I can’t take one bit and throw out the rest. If I think my Mother is a liar and a whore, I can’t say “But when She said this, She was telling the truth”. I’m sorry, but if I’m not a Catholic, I can’t be a Protestant of whatever stripe.

If there is nothing in all the Catholic Church but rottenness and corruption, then I can’t believe in the God who revealed Himself to Israel, to His Son who died on Calvary, in the Trinity, in Heaven and Hell, in sin as more than offending against changeable social mores that alter with the passage of time, in forgiveness, in anything more than the crushed reed of merely human goodness.

I can’t be a Christian. I can’t even be a Buddhist, much as I like to joke about that as my fall-back position. I have to be an atheist.

But I can’t be an atheist, because I cannot – I cannot – make myself not believe that there is a God. Yes, I’ve tried the experiment. I make no boast of it. It’s no virtue in me, and it certainly doesn’t give me a full and complete volume of systematic theology in my head to answer all questions; that I had to, and have to, learn from my teacher, my Mother, the Church.

So what’s the solution? Tempting as it might be, it is not more rigidity – that’s part of what got us into this whole slough of filth in the first place – it is more fidelity. Break up the stony ground, till the good earth, so that when the seed falls, it will put down deep roots and not wither under the first blast of wind or the noonday sun.

celtic-crossAnd pray for us. We desperately need prayer. Pray for me, my brothers and sisters, as we ask each other to pray in the “Confiteor” at Mass. Pray for us all.

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.


  1. The Magdalene convent strikes me as a fundamentally different issue than the ongoing sex scandals. An orphanage can be closed, but the Church can hardly reform itself of the hierarchical, secretive, authoritarian atmosphere which helped perpetuate sex abuse, and still remain recognizably Catholic.

    Realizing that many organizations have suffered similar scandals, a key complaint about the Catholic Church is that all levels of the hierarchy conspired to cover up various scandals. Of course this too has a historical context, but what do you think of the Church’s response today? Is it adequate?

    Psychologists tend to distinguish between sex abuse of an actual child, and statutory rape of a willing teenager which, though illegal, does not suggest any abnormal sexual desire on the part of the offender. I understand that many, and possibly most, cases of Catholic sex abuse involved priests and teenage boys. The press prefers to characterize such relationships in clinically inaccurate terms of pedophilia, while the Church of course emphasizes their homosexual nature.

    • Is the response adequate? We’ll know in twenty years, if there are new abuses taking place today and are reported then. I know that sounds very cynical or pessimistic, but it does happen that people who have been abused take years to deal with it and yes, it may well be that it will be no earlier than twenty years that someone abused today finally can be psychologically strong enough to go public.

      Things have changed. The deputy principal of the secondary school I worked at, five years ago, was asked to be on her parish council and one of the matters they dealt with was surveying the parish to get suggestions on the implement of the new child protection policies. So at least everyone is now aware of the reality that yes, this happens. Everyone now knows what should and what should not be done. There are policies and structures in place.

      How well they will work is another thing and, as I said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Now, as for the structure of the hierarchy, that’s something different. What we do need to do as a church is stop being defensive and just plain admit to things. Some of the covering-up or keeping silent was done in good faith, as a way to protect the victims. If they or their parents didn’t want police involvement, didn’t want gossip about them, didn’t want publicity, then it was just as much to protect them that secrecy was maintained. Of course, in the long run, that didn’t help because too many were using secrecy to cover their backsides and prevent public scandal, not to deal with the problem.

      But it’s not confined to the church. It’s worse in the church, because we expect better, because we do expect those who claim to be in relationship with Christ to be truly altered by that relationship. But it happens in schools, in athletic and sports organisations, in anything to do with children (the Boy Scouts, foster homes, you name it), even in families. So it’s as much a social problem as anything, and my fear is that Irish society will content itself with blaming the Church, blaming the past, and think that everything is now okay – and, as the report about the failure of the state social services shows, that is very much not the case.

      I don’t have a magic solution that if implemented will work once and for all. I think that there will continue to be sexual abuse of vulnerable adults and, God help us, of children. I think people will break vows and abuse their authority. It’s sin. The only thing is that if we can be open about it and admit our faults without the instinctive desire to defend our own and our organisation, then we can reduce it as much as humanly possible.

      Humanly. That means the tares will continue to grow with the wheat right up until the final harvest.

      Another thing is that it was literally unthinkable to imagine such crimes and scandals. To accuse a priest of having sex with an adult woman was bad enough; to say that there were priests who were sexually abusing youths and boys was like saying “Fr. X eats roasted babies for his dinner”. We had too high an estimate of the office and now we’ve swung to the opposite extreme and it’s easier to make jokes and criticise than to give any public praise to the clergy and religious.

      To be fair, we have been well-served by the vast majority who were decent, upright people and never hurt anyone. Even the strict ones who were not seen as approachable or friendly or nice. It’s just that the whole backlog of hidden crimes and neglect and mistreatment that covered forty, fifty, sixty years has all come out at once so it looks even worse, globally, than it really is – and that is not to say that the reality is not bad or wrong or excusable, because it can be explained in part but it can’t be ignored as just “That’s how things were back then”.

      I don’t think we’ve seen the last of it, I don’t think (as I said) we will ever see the absolute last of such cases, but I hope the most of it has all finally been revealed. There’s a sad and sordid case going on in Scotland right now, about Cardinal Keith O’Brien who had to resign (almost the last thing Pope Benedict did before his retirement took effect was to force that through) over allegations of sexual misconduct with four clergy under his authority thirty years ago – and he has finally admitted the truth of these accusations, but in precisely the wrong way, with as little actual admitting as possible and as vague a statement as he could get away with.

      We can’t do that anymore. If the accusation is true, we have to confess to it and not try and weasel out of it. And I understand why, because who wants to trot out all the details of their sins in public? We lie to ourselves as much as to others – it wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t like that, I didn’t do something really bad, it was only because of stress or drink or a moment of weakness – but we can’t go on doing that. For crying out loud, we have the Sacrament of Penance for precisely that reason – to admit what we did in the full truth and stop hedging and stop trying to deceive ourselves (there’s no question of deceiving God, even though we try that as well).

      That’s why I said fidelity (to the Gospel that we preach) rather than rigidity (insistence on the external appearance of probity) is what we desperately need and what is the only cure for our ills.

      • Thank you, Martha, for your considered response. I often suspect that smaller, less established groups than the Catholic Church have faced less public pressure on this point, even when the offenses were similar. It is a bit like when vegetarians single out McDonalds as their biggest and most visible target!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        We had too high an estimate of the office and now we’ve swung to the opposite extreme and it’s easier to make jokes and criticise than to give any public praise to the clergy and religious.

        Both morning and afternoon drive-time talk-radio where I am are well underway in doing this. They routinely append “-pedophile” to all church titles, especially “Cardinal-Pedophile” for our former Archbishop (who WAS involved in a cover-up) and referred to Pope John Paul’s beatification as “Patron Saint of Child Molesters”.

        My editor for two anthologies of Catholic-themed science fiction once shared some stories of the worst submissions she’d received. The story topping (or bottoming out) the list was one where the author tacked on a “Catholic” theme by having the main character be molested by a priest as a kid.

        THAT’s the reputation the Church now has on the outside.

  2. Martha…thank you for taking this on, from a Catholic across the pond. You already shared what I would like to second……which is WHY I am still and always will be Catholic.

    Martha is also correct in saying that there is hardly a way to talk of this that doesn’t smack of apologies for the perpetrators and those who protected them. It is sickening…..abuse of children is ALWAYS sickening. A lot of the coverup was protection of power and influence…..just as we see in other churchs, schools, and civic organizations. When talking about Sovereign Grace earlier, someone commented that they thought this abuse was a Catholic issue. It is not…it is HUMAN issue of sinful, fallen, and sick humans, some of whom wear fancy collars.

    The new and ruthless rules and safe-guards are needed, but long overdue. Despite which, we remain under the Hand and direction of God (all Christians) while we are here on this fallen planet.

  3. Martha, I feel your pain.

    Right now we should all be working on the “motes” in our eyes before judging what has happened. That does not mean we should not work to ensure this doesn’t continue to happen.

    One thing is communicating with our children so they don’t feel they have to stay silent because it is someone in charge. We also have to listen with our whole being and take steps to end the problem . The Episcopal church has a program that makes all of us in the congregation alert to signs of problems. We also mandate 2 teachers in the classroom at all times. It won’t guarantee nothing happens but works to “Safeguarding Gods Children”

  4. Your options…while your candidness and somewhat self-depricating manner are to be commended, please recall that ultimately this is in fact, a great journey. Larger than Catholicism, Protestism, even Atheism and non-theistic world views. Remember that looming larger that the greatest and most time-honored of out traditions, theological and otherwise is the Word – the Living Word Himself, the Lord of the journey.
    You may feel limited in your opportunities now, but life under and in the Living Word has it’s tendencies to throw it’s “curve-balls” at us and things may be head-spinningly different for you even say, at this time next year.
    He is organic, Living, unfolding life. So must we be in Him.
    Catch you along the way traveller!

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Eight million minus four million means four million gone. Poof! Disappeared! Not there! Not alone because of the death from starvation and disease during the Famine and the accompanying emigration of the desperate, but continuing long-term emigration over the decades.

    1) Ireland was a Third World country at the time.
    2) Historically, Ireland’s number-one export has been Irish.

    Couple that with a tendency in 19th century Irish Catholicism towards Jansenism, which meant a very rigid and rigorous and unforgiving parade of public piety…

    Jansenism = Calvinism with Rosaries.

    …and the fact that some earnest British officials did actually blame the Famine as the just punishment of a rebellious and ungrateful (and even worse, Papist) Irish populace by a wrathful God…

    The same British officials who kept Ireland’s food exports to England flowing uninterrupted throughout the Famine?

    On the other hand, having a priest or a nun or a religious brother in the family brought good repute, gave the family high standing in public respect, and was a pledge of virtue in this life and heavenly reward in the next.

    Another incarnation of Clericalism. Shows you have a special inside track to God. Like having a foreign missionary or pastor or P&W singer in your family to today’s Evangelicals.

    And then you add Vow of Celibacy to the mix. Like Renaissance Spain, you wind up with a LOT of people in Holy Orders or Monasteries or Convents who are just not cut out for it.

    The disgrace of leaving – of being a “spoiled priest” or a nun who dropped out – meant that their families would be shamed and that they would have to emigrate anyway, with little or no formal education or trade to fall back on. So by default, they stayed where they were.

    And if they were not cut out for it, they couldn’t get out. THAT’s a clergy sex scandal just waiting to happen.

  6. Martha:
    As a soon to be Tiber swimmer, one of the liturgical pieces I’ve found striking during Lent (and I can’t remember where this is in the Mass) is that the phrase “We have sinned” shows up regularly.

    Corporate sin is not a Protestant concept; and yet, if we are the Body of Christ, then we, yes we, have failed in what we have done and what we have failed to do.

    We have failed to protect the least of these.

    Given what Jesus says happens to those who don’t, sackcloth and ashes must be our garb.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Corporate sin is not a Protestant concept; and yet, if we are the Body of Christ, then we, yes we, have failed in what we have done and what we have failed to do.

      A Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation has no need of the concept of Corporate Sin. Or any other concept of the group or whole.

      • Which feeds back into the schism discussion earlier in the week. Isn’t schism even possible under these circumstances? If it’s only Me’n’Jesus, then does it matter where I go to exercise that preference?

  7. Martha, thank you for this. As much as I enjoy the posts here on iMonk, the real reason I lurk around here is to learn from you whenever the opportunity arises. Today was such a day.

  8. Martha,

    Thank you for this. In my diocese much has been done over the last 10 years to protect the innocents. Bi-yearly background checks, two – deep leadership, and education has really gone a long way in closing the gap.

    In years past I believe in a number of instances the Church tried to take care of their own dirty laundry by sending Priests to be reabilitated. That did not work out so well. Others tried to turn a blind eye and ignore the problem. These days an accusation, at least in my diocese is taken very sriously, and law enforcement are brought in right from the start.

    Having said all that, perpetrators of child sex crimes will find their way close to children and will pick professions or vocations that allow them constant access. This could be religious professions or secular professions like counselor, teacher, baby sitter etc. The point here is that this is going on in the secular world, in other faith expressions, and we need procedures in place tto eliminate the risk. It is no more prevelant in the Catholic Church than any other church or secular institution.

    As mentioned above two deep leadership is really key when one is in contact with children. It protects them from abuse and also protects the leader from false accusations. The Boy Scouts employ this also in their leadership training. Although I have a number of children of my own, I always make sure there is another adult present whether that be while I am teaching, coaching, leading or mentoring. I wonder how many youth groups do the same?

    • Josh in FW says

      The two deep leadership is also a mandatory policy at my church (dispensational Bible Church). This past Sunday my Sunday school class had a founder of a group called MinistrySafe (http://abusepreventionsystems.com/) come speak to us parents about sex abuse prevention. She is an attorney whose practice is dedicated to the prosecution of sex offenders. It was a very sobering presentation. One of things mentioned in the presentation is that background checks are not enough because only 10% of offenders come into contact with the criminal justice system. She also explained how abusers ‘groom’ the parents/gatekeepers as well as the victims and that it was important to teach our children that they have the right to say stop to unwelcome behavior/touch. She showed us video clips of interviews (depositions) of actual abusers talking about what and how they did what they did.

      You asked about how many youth groups have an abuse prevention policy in place. Ms. Norris state that way too many churches require little more than a pulse and a “willingness to serve”. She said this is scary because offenders seek out the easiest targets.

      • I swam tonight because I’m trying to lose weight (former offensive lineman here!) but afterward I grabbed a sub at a sub place and as I was eating I whipped out my Android and check Monk. I read this comment and I felt soooooooo sick. I felt like I was going to vomit. Child sex abuse has to be one of the most heinous crimes that exists. Just thinking about it turns my stomach inside out and makes me feel outright sick. It’s really a form of evil and I don’t see how an adult could be sexually interested in a child. Then you think of the scars, the hurt, and lifelong pain a child endures.

        A couple of years ago I watched a Frontiine PBS Special on the child sex abuse scandal in Boston. It followed around a number of people who were abused and you saw how it torn about their life DECADES later. I haven’t been able to forget watching that and reading this post, as graphic as it was brought back some memories of that Frontline special.

        I’m sorry if I am a little emotional, but I read or hear about sex abuse in children and I feel sick deep in my stomach. It goes back to the problem of evil, and how evil touches innocent people. I’ve always framed the problem of evil in the context of child sexual abuse because its one of the most evil acts that exists.

        • Josh in FW says


          All of us fellow parents felt sick after the presentation, but we were all more prepared to prevent abuse and evaluate whether an organization had adequate protocols. I’m thankful for good attorneys like Kimberlee Norris who help those who have been victimized.

      • Josh…thank you for sharing such a well worded response. I was attempting to say the same thing earlier…that pedophiles will seek out children for the same reason crooks rob banks…that is where the “goodies” arre.

        As a Catholic, it is easy to be misunderstood or accused of hiding behind “he did it TOO” when part of the issue is keeping this sickness from having license ANYWHERE. This scandel and coverup is a rotting sickness that is still spreading its shadow…BUT…we are kidding ourselves if we think this is an issue only in Catholic churches.

        My hubby is an elementary school teacher and was a BSA leader when our sons were Scouts. He is a fanatic about the “two-deep” rule. As said, it helps keep kids safe and protect good people, especially good men, from false accusations.

        • Josh in FW says

          Norris pointed out that the number or proportion of offenders was consistent across all socio-economic, ethnic, cultural, religious, etc. categories. She pointed out that the law enforcement community has analyzed many many studies and no particular group stood out has having a bigger problem.
          The SGM mo was the same as that in the R.C.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        She also explained how abusers ‘groom’ the parents/gatekeepers as well as the victims and that it was important to teach our children that they have the right to say stop to unwelcome behavior/touch.

        Remember: Successful Pedophiles and Successful Sociopaths are masters at camouflaging what they are. Successful Pedophiles have cultivated and groomed allies among the adult third parties around them as well as their targets. If not, they would have been found out and caught long ago. And we only know about the ones who slipped up and got caught; a perfect master of self-camouflage would NEVER be discovered.

  9. Elizabeth says

    Thank you for your perspective Martha.

    In another part of my world, I’m invovled in a discussion of adoption ethics and there seem to be parallels – people involved for the wrong reason without the ability to handle situations ethically because of lack of skill or desperaton tainting an institution or practice and making it hard for the rest to unwind and untangle how to proceed with grace and love. So many shades of gray.

  10. Martha, well done! We are all in this together, we all would prefer not to admit that we have spots on our own clothes, that the mess is so large as to extend wherever human beings can assume power or control over another.

    I wonder if you read the American Catholic historian Garry Wills. Amongst others he has written Why I Am a Catholic. His latest is Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition. I am only part way thru that but I find that I always learn something useful from him and come away with much to think about.

  11. Dana Ames says

    When I was a student in Germany in the late ’70s, well before the fall of the Iron Curtain, a few of us from my study group made friends with 3 Croatian priests who were with a study group from Rome. They were sincere, kind, upright men who enjoyed a good game of volleyball… One seemed like he had a true vocation, was cut out to be a priest; one was a rather cynical scholar type; the third was a bit, smart country farm boy who should have married and had a passel of kids. The scholar was very up front about telling us that many young Croatian men went into the priesthood because that was the only way they could, under Communism, get a college education.

    No matter how dysfunctional Washington is, we 21st century Americans have no idea what it like to live under persecution. Some of the situations labeled persecution in the “Christian news” outlets are serious, but most I think are the result of a loss of a kind of privilege. None is true persecution, such as the Irish suffered when being Catholic was illegal, or my Croatian friends or any other serious Christian under Communism, or Orthodox Christians under the Ottoman Turks (not to mention the early church pre-AD 312, and some parts of the world today). We just don’t have a clue how demoralized faithful people can become, how when the externalities of “faithfulness” seem compromised in the eyes of purists good people become psychologically blunted.

    A short but very good window on this is the novel “Silence” by Shusaku Endo.


    CM, if this shows up as a double post please feel free to delete this one and keep the first.

    • Dana Ames says

      the third was a BIG smart country boy… (sheesh)


      • And I thought you meant to type “hip”. 🙂

      • Josh in FW says

        Country boy ought to switch to the E.O. and then he can serve God and have a family.

        • Dana Ames says

          Yes, ’tis true, Josh. But Croatia was/is Catholic; it is not likely he would have switched, especially under Communism.


          • Josh in FW says

            🙂 I forgot the smiley 🙂
            On serious note, I’m not very familiar with where in Europe the population switches from R.C. to E.O. so thanks for helping fill in one more blank.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            In the Balkans, it’s the Croatian/Serbian border. Dates back to when the Roman Empire split into East and West; the dividing line ran between what’s now Croatia and Serbia.

            Fallout from this is that Croatians are Roman Catholic (West), Serbians are Eastern Orthodox (East). Croatians and Serbians speak the same language but write it in different alphabets — Croatians use Latin alphabet (West), Serbians Cyrillic (East).

          • Josh in FW says

            Thanks for the history trivia. I love factoids like that.

  12. Hi Martha. I’m writing from Dublin. Your big overview really helps to capture the cultural, political and social forces underpinning perhaps what was the strongest form of Christendom on the planet in the 1930s to the 1960s.

    Yes sin. And also unchecked power tied to national identiity that had a vast amount invested in ‘proving itself’ to be a successful, and Catholic, new nation.. Anyone and anything that did not fit the narrative had to be silenced, controlled and hidden. And that’s a deadly combination. I wrote a piece a while back on the Murphy Report here http://www.ibi.ie/resources/articles/the-murphy-report-and-the-future-of-christianity-in-ireland/
    would be interested what you think of it if you get time to read it.

  13. Robert F says

    I remember a while back iMonk did a post or two that touched on the subject of right/wrong cultures versus honor/shame cultures. The above post about the child abuse scandals involving the Irish Catholic church illustrates how much of that cover-up has been rooted in a culture immersed and entrapped in honor/shame culture. In addition to the institutional defensiveness that the RC Church has evidenced internationally in relation to similar scandals elsewhere, Martha of Ireland has illustrated with her historical outline how that institutional defensiveness dovetailed with the particular history and psyche of a nation struggling to restore face (honor) in the midst of a national experience that inculcated deep social shame. I think that many societies still are powerfully influenced by honor/shame values for reasons not too dissimilar from the ones enumerated in the above post, so although there is much particularity about the history behind the Irish scandal, the situation is not unique. The fact that it was children who suffered is illustrative of the fact that in societies where honor/shame drives a dysfunctional national social dynamic, it will be the most vulnerable, the most socially invisible and impotent who will suffer for the pretense of social honor; as long as no one is exposed, it is too shameful to consider and is treated as if it really didn’t happen. And it becomes a driving social imperative to make sure that no one is exposed, because exposure brings further shame for everybody. In such a context, the unspoken social consensus involves an agreement that it is worth sacrificing the truth, and the victims, to the greater purpose of restoring or maintaining honor. This is why honor/shame values produce such an impediment for trying to establish even provisional peace and justice in societies.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      …in societies where honor/shame drives a dysfunctional national social dynamic, it will be the most vulnerable, the most socially invisible and impotent who will suffer for the pretense of social honor; as long as no one is exposed, it is too shameful to consider and is treated as if it really didn’t happen.

      1) If nobody knows of my sin, I Am Not Shamed.
      2) Dead Men Tell No Tales.

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I want to say only this much at the start: first, elements of that movie were exaggerated or even invented for “dramatic effect” and admitted as much by the film-maker (who didn’t see why this was such a big deal). The stripping naked of the girls who were then mocked by the nuns? Didn’t happen. But so what if it didn’t exactly happen like that, we all know that those places were hotbeds of sexual abuse, right?

    This is called “Fake But Accurate”, first claimed in trial-by-media regarding George W Bush’s military records, and the one time it was actually introduced in an American court as evidence, the judge not only shot it down but had the DA (county prosecutor) investigage the plaintiff for fraud.

    • Hi Brendan,I have just ordered your book and will wait panlittey for it’s arrival. I auditioned for you for a Heinz soup commercial earlier today at Spotlight offices. Commercials are strange. Recently I have been at a casting a week for the past year. Sometimes I get them and sometimes I never know. I don’t know if there is any correct or incorrect approach to them. I have done Between 20 and 30 in the past decade or so.So I look forward to reading. I can hear your voice alreadySeamus Casey

  15. Donalbain says

    It is fascinating to see a Catholic blame the things outside the Catholic Church for the vile crimes that happened within the Catholic Church. “Yes, we have a system that enslaved women, but thats not our fault, the English did it as well.” “Yes, we covered up the rape of children (and how DARE you minimise the fact that that happened), but there was a famine.”
    The Irish state WAS the Catholic church, and yet you want to shift the blame to the secular authorities, as if they existed separate from the organisation that you believe is responsible for the salvation of mankind.

    John Humphreys said it best today on Radio 4’s Today programme: If it had been any other organisation with the poloicies of the Catholic Church, it would have been shut down.

    • On the other hand, I found validity in Martha’s providing the context of colonialism. Nothing exists in isolation, and the experience and legacy of colonialism is huge, and forms and warps many things. Living in a recent “colonial” outpost of the former British Empire I know this only too well. As do our indigenous people. Not an excuse, but a context.

    • Elizabeth says

      First, you can’t simply seperate the spiritual lives and institutions of a people and culture from that people and culture. The inter-connectedness of life makes it impossible. The Catholic Church does not exist in a vacuum.

      Second, she was not blaming what happened on cultural context but explaining how that cultural context contibuted to the situation based on her understanding of history.. The acts of individuals, both their specific acts or the act of protecting institution over children, are theirs to own.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Still fighting the Reformation Wars against Popery, Donalblain?

      The Treaty of Westphalia ended those wars in 1648, but a lot of Prots had adopted “No Popery! Whore of Babylon!” as their tribal identity marker and continue to this day.

      • Donalbain says

        I know.. how crazy of me to oppose an organisation that owned slaves during our lifetime, and that covered up the abuse of children. Obviously, I am the extremist.

  16. Good analysis. I would add, and emphasize, the following.

    The fact that there were historical and cultural forces at work that contributed a sin, and perhaps also to its systemic nature, does not in any way excuse the sin. The fact that a sin also occurs among other peoples of differing beliefs in other places does not in any way excuse the sin. I know the post makes this point, but I also thought it tended to get drowned out by the lengthy discussion of the historical and cultural contributors.

    The whole sordid story (and I’m sure we haven’t heard all of it yet) is an excellent illustration of what happens when a Christian community gives undue priority and power to particular cultural imperatives, even if unintentionally and over time, rather than to the gospel and following Jesus. It should serve as a cautionary lesson to us all. Following Jesus is probably always counter-cultural. We forget that at our peril.

    It’s not just that the sin occurred (sins will always occur), but that it was covered up and aided by those in authority who should have stopped it and protected the least of these.

    We should certainly pray. But we should also act. We should use this experience to reform not only our own hearts, but also those systems and organizational structures of which we are a part, if they can be reformed, or disband them if they cannot, so that the weak and the powerless will never again be subject to individuals and systems that abuse them, especially if those individuals and systems claim to follow Jesus. And yes, we should seek justice and reparations for those who have been wronged.

    I enjoy the friendship of some great Catholic brothers and sisters and admire them a lot. But the Catholic church needs to take ownership of this scandal more than it has. I’d say the same about any other denomination or church (and there are some others).

  17. Martha

    What is Jansenism? Can you explain that in detail? I’ve heard it from time to time but I don’t know what it means. Can you explain in detail what its about? HUGS Martha!!!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The way it was explained to me, Jansenism = Hyper-Calvinism with Rosaries. Extreme emphasis on Predestination to the point where it eclipses everything else about God.

      • How can Catholicism beleive in pre-destination? That doesn’t sound right? How did teaching like that get into the Catholic church and what was the mindset. I’m baffled…can anyone enlighten me?

        • There’s always this:
          for more reading.

          And Jansenism seems to explain some of what went on the Span/Portugal territories of the Americas for the first few hundred years after Columbus. A “you need to be content with your second class status in life as that’s where God put you.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Utter Predestination is always a friend of those who are on top with their boots stamping on the faces of all below them. Sort of the Calvinist/Muslim version of Divine Right. “GOD HATH WILLED IT!”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Also, don’t forget the Moors — Muslims from Morocco — had ruled what became Spain and Portugal (al-Andalus) for centuries. The Spanish and Portuguese were immersed in North African Muslim culture and probably picked up some of the attitudes though osmosis. Including a view of God more historically Muslim than Christian.

            When the Spanish finally drove the Moors out in 1492 (the same year the colonial expansion to the New World kicked off), Spain easily slipped from one wartime footing to another for la Conquesta. Then came the Reformation Wars, another war footing where Spain cultivated the tribal identity of being More Catholic Than The Pope.

        • Robert F says

          Also, there are sections of Augustine that can be read as supporting a strong view of the sovereignty of God and predestination, and were so read by Luther (single predestination for the redeemed) and Calvin (double predestination, one for saved, other for damned) and Jansen. The objections to the Jansenists by the Catholic hierarchy was not due to their views on predestination, which is not condemned by the Catholic church as one possible theological position among others, but because they were thought to be closet Calvinists, in league with and encouraging Protestantism.

          • Robert F says

            The Jansenist were never a ruling theological faction in the Catholic church; they were a minority that had to struggle to survive, so it wasn’t a matter of the ruling class theologically stomping down other theologies. If you want to find the culprits responsible for oppression in the colonization of the Americas and elsewhere, you’d have to look among the Jesuits and other powerful orders in the Catholic church. The Jansenist were just a few very ascetic, pious followers of what they took to be Augustine’s insistence on God’s sovereign grace at work in every part of salvation, including his sovereignty over the human assent to his gift. Among their number was the brilliant mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal: “Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars….”

  18. i read this post with a deep fascination. Seeing the Irish history woven into it gives a different perspective. My father’s family is Irish Catholic. I don’t know all the details but they came from County Cork. They left Ireland in the late 19th century. I don’t know if its due to the Potato famine. I know they landed in Canada and ended up in Butte, Montana. They came to Montana I believe when it was a territory. They planted roots and thrived there and parts do until today though my family is dying out. My family’s history there is diverse. It was everything from Montana politics, to education, practicing law, to working on the railroad briefly.

    Ireland lost a lot due to its famine. And I think the United States gained a lot. Though many Irish experienced hardship and discrimination when they came here.

    Now getting to the post at hand…Martha I am touched that you wrote this report in the way that you did. You lay it out on the table, you don’t defend, AND you explain why you still are Catholic amidst all this. What I love Martha is your raw honesty about all this. I wish more Catholics would be in your place theologically and intellectually. I watched with horror some of the pedophilia scandals unfold in the United States. And it bothered me to no end. What also bothered me was watching how some Catholics responded. Some viewed it as a media sensation being overblown and casting doubt on the seriousness of the scandal. For a Christian organization that horrified me. I don’t care if its Protestant, Catholic, etc… child abuse is child abuse.

    The one thing that is also bothersome is that in many cases I don’t think many Catholics realize how this plays out. The true damage is the molested children. What is also disturbing is how this turns people away from faith. For me in the darkest valley of my journey I clung to scandals like this only to show why Christianity is a cancer. If you really want to read a thought provoking article you should read William Lobdell’s column in the Los Angeles Times. He was the faith columnist who saw corruption in different forms of faith. he saw it in Protestant, Evangelical and Catholic. In his last column he came out as an atheist and he talked about how covering all the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church became the tipping point. He also explained why he was going through the Catholic confirmation classes and how he stopped because of all that he saw.


    • Let me rephrase the first sentence and put it in its proper context. I read the Irish history with deep fascination. Being part Irish I do think Irish history is neat.

    • Butte catholic miners?
      Have you had your pasty today?

      (Currently living in Helena, Butte is evidently its own little republic or something.)

      • The best place in Butte is Gamers on Broadway in the uptown. Whenever me and my family hits Butte THAT is a must. How can you go to Butte AND not have a pasty? Its like going to Milwaukee and not having a beer.

        My family history in Butte and Helena runs deep. Very deep. I attended college in Helena in the mid 1990’s. I used to go to to the Beattie Park on Railroad Avenue in the mid 90’s and watch Burlington Northern and Montana Rail Link. It was heaven for me, and yes I think doing that in winter let some of the freezing weather get to my brain! 😛 I’m a train nerd….I plead insanity!

        • Sorry, I drove through Butte last week at the end of a road trip and didn’t stop for a pasty. 🙁

          Not to hijack the thread even more with old home week, but by college do you mean Carroll?

          And the trains are still blocking traffic in town multiple times a day, there’s only one overpass and one underpass to get across the tracks if one is creeping its way through. I’m sure a train nerd doesn’t mind.

          • Yes it would be Carroll. 🙂 And no I don’t mind being blocked by trains. Sometimes I go out of the way if I know its going to happen. That’s the nerd in me.

    • I also have ancestors that came from County Cork, Skibereen as tradition has it – came over in 1843 – a few years before the Potato famine. Lots came to America through Canada (a chance they left via the city of Cork, but more likely travelled to Liverpool). Mine came to Brooklyn and stayed for a couple of generations….

      I too am discusted by child abuse… all the more reason to put procedures in place and protect everyone involved. This goes for church groups, schools, sports, everything. Not hard at all to put two-deep leadership in place and not grow slack about it.

  19. I would love so much for the Catholic Church and the Christian churches at large to be places where people find love, safety, peace. I have big hopes for any Pope that is chosen that he can quicken the pace at which the Church is viewed as a welcoming, Spirit-filled place and not a divisive institution.

    (I see from that betting place that Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Boston, now has better odds than Cardinal Timothy Dolan. If Sean became Pope, would someone “force” him to wear the Papal clothes (red shoes and all) or could he continue to go around in sandals if he wanted to? I think it could be interesting to have a Franciscan as Pope.)

    Good night all, and thank you as usual, Martha!

  20. “If Sean became Pope, would someone “force” him to wear the Papal clothes (red shoes and all) or could he continue to go around in sandals if he wanted to?”

    I think it would be awesome for him to continue to dress simply and in humility.

    Hoping that it happens.

    • I think it would be awesome too, Steve. Perhaps some folks would “miss” all the pomp, but not me. Fancy clothes and elaborate surroundings do nothing for me “spiritually.” I prefer simplicity.

  21. Martha,

    I know something of the sadly wonderful history of the Irish. I deal with it every day, even in NW Arkansas. My wife’s family immigrated from County Down in the 50’s to Ontario, then got homesick and went back when my wife was a toddler and then realized why they left and returned to Canada when she was 6 or 7. They were Prods. My deceased father-in-law was raised poor in the Shankill and became an Orangeman before age 20. He was rabidly anti-papist, anti-Fennian, anti-Republican (yes, a tautology—for effect). It’s probably good that he died before his daughter and I met or the warfare would have continued in the home scene. Especially so since his daughter has embraced Roman Catholicism
    In my background The 30’s elicits much the same pathos as The Famine or The Troubles.

    Thank you Martha for allowing us to gaze at the yet open wound of yourself, your people, and the land itself. Thank you.


    • As an aside….

      In as far as I know I haven’t a drop of Celt in my blood. I’m mostly perfidious Albion with a fair lot of AmerIndian and a dollop of Swedish. However, the sound of uilleann pipes and bodhrans elicits something in me that only feels right.


  22. Very moving and beautifully written account of a heartbreaking situation, and written without a shred of bitterness or rancor or malice.

    The description of Ireland’s history and the place of the clergy is very much needed. My own ancestors came – in part – to NYC as a result of the famine. Others came from England. That conflict only started to heal in Europe in the last century.

    Ireland has been a bastion of Christianity and the Church since Patrick. Fidelity – as you say – and the grace of God will allow that to continue, but only after a terrible period of anguish and acknowledging the truth of the crimes that were committed against the innocent over many decades.

    Among the victims now are the faithful and decent clergy who are now tainted by association.

  23. Martha – Thanks so much for this piece, though – from where I’m sitting – the whole “home for unwed mothers” thing does *not* equal the Magdalen laundries.

    Were US homes for unwed mothers awful? Was the stigma attached to being an “unwed mother” terrible?

    yes and yes.

    I have no doubt that many women suffered terribly in the worst types of “homes,” but I am still shaken by the reports on the abuses in the Magdalen laundries. It seems as if the whole system was set up to systematically exploit and abuse the young women who were sent to them – a blend of indentured servitude and outright slavery, maybe? (Not quite sure what to call it.)

    And I can’t help but wonder if some nuns were sent to these places as punishments for perceived infractions (real or not). There seems to have been an unbelievable amount of systematic, institutionalized cruelty in these places, and in the higher levels that endorsed them.

    That’s evil.

    Does it make all of Irish Catholicism – and all Irish Catholics – evil? Of course not.

    But it certainly *does* raise all kinds of red flags… I can only hope that this scheme has not been repeated in other countries, by people of any/all/no faiths… but with us humans being what we are, I have little ground for that kind of hope. (Written as an observer of ongoing abuse scandals/problems – sexual and otherwise – in many N. American denominations.)

    • P.S.: though I’m not Catholic, I spent a good deal of time with Catholic religious back in the early 70s – they were women who were sincerely fighting the good fight on behalf of many (from migrant farmworkers to kindergarteners).

      I only wish that they were the people who got time to speak to the media, as opposed to many of the entrenched hierarchs who seem to live to perpetuate a certain system and way of doing things.

  24. For Martha: I read that The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, as a man they would not be opposed to being Pope. They also recommend a cardinal from the Phillipines and one from Austria. I just read about Martin and I think he could be good too, but cardinals will usually pick a cardinal to be the pope.

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  26. MaryMargaret says

    Thank you, Martha. As an American (US), I share your pain. This has been a very difficult time for all Catholics. (My paternal family is also Irish..from Counties Donegal and Roscommon.) I know this must have been a very difficult post to write. God love you and bless you.

    I hope that we will learn from this. Clericalism is a deep and difficult stain that must be rooted out. On the other hand, I respect and revere our priests. Most of them abandon the call of the world to serve..their service to all of us, and their willingness to suffer for us, is beyond my ability to express.

    Now, an anecdote..not to be considered data, lol. This is just for the Irish, who may not understand what it was like back in the day here in the USA. My father told me this story. (background..my father was born in 1910..this event happened when he was less than 10 years old). My grandparents had a visitor for supper. He said that he hated the Irish, and if he had a drop of Irish blood in him, that he would cut open his veins to get rid of it. My father, being a young and ummm…brash? youth, turned to his mother and said, “Wasn’t your Mam Irish?”. Grandmama responded, “yes, and Pap, too”. The guest was horribly embarrassed, and apologized. Daddy was later spanked and told that it was not his place to embarrass a guest in their home.

    Further anecdote. I was orphaned at the age of 13, and was sent to live with the family of one of my close friends. I still remember finding a tract in that house that described Catholicism as the “beast”, the “antichrist”, and condemned us (me) for worshiping the BVM as a goddess. I was shocked and scared.

    Hang in there, Martha! Jesus is still with us until the end of time. Our fathers, bishops and cardinals..may not be good nor holy. This, too, shall pass.

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