Magdalene laundries’ controversy – 20 years on
Updated: 16:12, Wednesday, 26 June 2013
RTÉ’s Religious & Social Affairs Correspondent Joe Little reports
The Government has unveiled a package of financial and other supports for survivors of Magdalene laundries.
It was based on recommendations of Mr Justice John Quirke who was asked by the cabinet to devise eligibility criteria and other aspects of a non-adversarial scheme.
It’s 20 years since the State’s Magdalene laundries became a source of public controversy. In 1993 the exhumation, transfer and cremation of the remains of 155 former residents of a Magdalene laundry in Dublin by an order of nuns clearing its land for sale sparked public outrage.
Eighty of the women had not been identified because death certificates were missing or never existed in the first place.
Earlier this year a committee of civil servants independently chaired by Dr Martin McAleese said “the most likely reason” for the blunder was the absence at that time of catalogued records in the order’s archives.
He noted the concern and distress caused to – potentially thousands of – women who had spent some of their lives in the State’s ten Catholic Magdalen laundries. And he said the women’s pain had been shared by their families and the general public.
But exhumations were not the only focus of criticism. In the landmark ‘States of Fear’ television documentary series, produced for RTÉ in 1999 by the late Mary Raftery, forced labour and wrongful deprivation of liberty were identified as hallmarks of the laundry life.
Women told of how, as young girls, they were made to work without pay in sweltering laundries with no indication of when, if ever, they would be released by their families, the nuns and the State which together frequently conspired to keep them hidden from wider society behind high walls and locked gates.
Raftery’s work on the plight of institutionalised children here– she also co-authored ‘Suffer Little Children’ with the Trinity College Dublin academic, Eoin O’Sullivan – forced the State to apologise to thousands of survivors of industrial schools and reformatories.
But the survivors of Magdalene laundries were largely ignored despite the fact that laundries often shared campuses with the other kinds of Catholic-run residential institutions and took referrals from them when girls were nearing graduation age.
While the State paid €1.5bn on a Redress Scheme for the survivors who merited its apology – much of it on lawyers’ fees – “the Magdalenes” as they came to be known, were virtually ignored.
However, movies were made on their plight and the making of Steven O’Riordan’s documentary ‘The Forgotten Maggies’, (2009, TG4) brought together the nucleus of Magdalene Survivors Together, an organisation that represents about 80 women in their campaign for justice.
Simultaneously, the Justice For Magdalenes Campaign (JFM) lobbied the Government and the Catholic Church for apologies and restorative justice measures for the ageing cohort of survivors and their families.
In 2011, JFM’s a recently-graduated legal academic, Maeve O’Rourke, brought their case to the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva.
It was moved to strongly criticise the Irish Government for failing to launch a prompt, independent and statutory investigation into the women’s claims and for failing to apologise to them.
The State’s representative testified that, from the limited evidence available, the Government was satisfied that the great majority of the women had been admitted voluntarily to the laundries and, in the case of minors, had been put there with the consent of their families.
Embarrassed by the findings in Geneva, the newly-elected Fine Gael-Labour Government promptly asked Dr Martin McAleese in 2011 to chair a group of civil servants from relevant departments to establish any State involvement with the laundries.
Report details State’s responsibility
Last February saw the publication of the 1,000-page McAleese Report. It found that approximately 10,000 women and girls had been put into the laundries between the founding of the State and 1996 when the last one closed.
It also found that the State was responsible for about a quarter of all referrals.
Many of the survivors who Dr McAleese met “experienced the laundries as lonely and frightening places” This was true, he added, particularly in the case of those who were put there as young girls”.
Dr McAleese noted that most girls were not told why they were put away. Possible reasons included poverty, the loss of a mother, disability, the risk of becoming pregnant, being sexually abused, and having had a second child outside marriage.
Girls committed by industrial schools – where they had been detained for some of their earlier years – were not told how long they would have to stay in the laundries. Dr McAleese added that the same open-ended policy was applied to those admitted by families and charities.
“To add to this confusion,” the report continues, “most found themselves quite alone in what was, by today’s standards, a harsh and physically demanding work environment. The psychological impact on these girls was undoubtedly traumatic and lasting.”
The report’s impact was blunted somewhat by the finding that 61% of residents had spent less than one year in the institutions. It was as if some sections of public opinion were disappointed that the picture painted by the report did not live up to the stereotype of laundry life portrayed by film-makers in particular.
But this was based on information concerning only 42% of admissions, those for which duration is known. The report in fact finds that the average duration of stay of those particular admissions was 3.22 years.
While some former residents who met the committee said the laundries were “their only refuge at times of great personal difficulty”, “the majority described the atmosphere in (them) as cold, with a rigid and uncompromising regime of physically demanding work and prayer, with many instances of verbal censure, scoldings or even humiliating put-downs.”
However, the vast majority told the committee that the ill-treatment, physical punishment and abuse that had been prevalent in the industrial school system was not something they experienced in the laundries.
Critically, although the laundries were owned and run by four religious congregations of nuns, the State was directly involved with the institutions. The McAleese Report detailed four cross-overs in addition to the previously mentioned responsibility the State bore for about a quarter of all fully recorded admissions:
State inspections and State funding of the laundries; State involvement in the routes by which women left the institutions; and its role in death registration, burials and exhumations.
Almost immediately after the report’s publication last February, the four Catholic congregations that had run the Laundries expressed their regrets for how they had treated women and girls in their care and apologised with varying degrees of intensity.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny also expressed regret for what had been revealed but stopped short of making an unequivocal apology to the women. But two weeks later, on the 19 February, he apologised unreservedly on behalf of the State to the survivors.
In a well-attended but hushed Dáil, his voice broke with emotion as he apologised for the hurt the women had endured in the laundries and for any stigma they suffered as a result of their time there. Dozens of survivors were moved to tears as they looked on from the visitors’ gallery.
Mr Kenny said that he wanted to initiate a process to help and support the women in their remaining years, and announced that the retired High Court Judge John Quirke had agreed to review how the Government could provide support to the women.
Shortly afterwards, the Department of Justice invited survivors of the laundries – and of a Catholic residential training centre for females in Dublin’s Stanhope Street – to register their intent to seek State support. So far more than 750 have done so. Meanwhile, Mr Justice Quirke began devising the eligibility criteria for the general scheme of supports and a payments system.
The Government had already decided all assistance should be given on an an ex gratia basis, that is, out of a sense of its moral obligation rather than because of any legal requirement.
The judge has been asked to estimate how much his proposed payments will come to. He’ll define their “nature” and “amount” and propose a method for deciding on payments “in an effective and timely manner that ensures the…. Fund (is) directed only to the benefit of eligible applicants and not on legal fees and expenses”.
Critically, his terms of reference also oblige him “to take into account relevant criteria including work undertaken by the women”. He has also been asked to examine “other matters as considered appropriate, to contribute to a healing and reconciliation process”
Judge Quirke will advise as well on help-in-kind for former residents who need it. Examples given are medical cards and other public health supports like mental health and counselling services and other welfare needs.
He’ll tackle the complex and thorny question of double-payments: how the government should respond to women who have already received money from the now defunct Residential Institutions Redress Board in recognition of abuse suffered in an Industrial School but where the payment included “a sum specifically due to their direct transfer to a Laundry and time spent there.
He has been asked to propose ways of ensuring that former residents living in the UK won’t lose existing entitlements to benefits and supports if they receive a payment from the Fund.
And finally, he will suggest ways of ensuring that “payments or supports or assistance” provided here are disregarded when Social Welfare entitlements and/or income tax liability are being determined.
The report, and the Government’s response to it, are scheduled to be launched in Dublin at 3.30pm today by Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter and Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch.
Call for Magdalene Laundry inquiry in NI
Former residents of Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland are calling for an inquiry into their abuse allegations.
Published Wednesday, 29 May 2013
It is thought hundreds of people across the region could come forward with their claims of abuse if a new investigation is established, or the current inquiry amended.
The current Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry does not cover victims of clerical child abuse and former residents of Magdalene Laundry-type institutions in NI.
But on Wednesday, they will gather to ask for the terms of that inquiry to be extended to include them.
They are backed by Amnesty International, and Patrick Corrigan from the organisation said it is now time for NI’s politicians to take further action.
He explained: “We are now coming to them with those other issues too, particular groups who have been left out of the current inquiry, children who have been abused at community or parish level, and women who were incarcerated effectively in those Magdalene Laundry-type institutions, and who suffered abuse not as children, but as adults.
“It’s now time for the Executive and the Assembly to turn their attention to justice and truth for those groups too.”
Many of these people are now in advanced years and they’ve had to live with shame, with stigma and they’ve a dark shadow cast over the whole of their lives, and a feeling that nobody wanted to know them and nobody was there when they were most vulnerable in their lives.
For the victims of abuse, Mr Corrigan said they want the state to acknowledge “the pain they went through”.
He added: “They now want to turn to our political representatives, and we are asking today for those leaders to listen to those victims now as adults, and to give them the truth, the justice and the acknowledgement that they crave before they finally pass away themselves.”
The current inquiry is investigating allegations of abuse at 35 sites across NI, including state-run children’s homes, institutions run by the Catholic Church, borstals, and institutions run by Protestant churches or voluntary sector organisations.
The three-year review, chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, could cost up to £19m.
After hearing from the alleged victims, an acknowledgement forum panel will produce a report to Sir Anthony detailing the claims.
Earlier this year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the Magdalene Laundries as “the nation’s shame”.
Speaking in the Irish government, Mr Kenny apologised to the victims of abuse after a report found thousands of women forced into the workhouses were physically and verbally abused.
The 18-month inquiry found 10,000 single mothers, women, and girls as young as 11 were forced into detention, mostly in the for-profit laundries. More than 2,000 women were sent to the laundries by the Irish authorities.
Some were detained for petty crime, others for disability, or pregnancy outside marriage.
Abuse cover-up ‘shocking’ – Cowen
From the link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8384372.stm
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has said the cover-up by the Catholic hierarchy in Dublin of child abuse by priests was shocking and disturbing.
A report revealed decades of abuse was concealed by the church in Dublin in an attempt to save its reputation.
It said some senior police officers colluded in the cover-up.
Mr Cowen said it was a crushing verdict that the good name and standing of the Church as an institution was placed above the basic safety of children.
“Where this was facilitated by servants of the state, it was a betrayal of trust and a complete abandoning of duty,” he said.
“It is a savage irony that a policy of cover-up that may have been borne of a misguided effort to avoid scandal has shaken the faith and confidence of many people.”
Released on Thursday, the Report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin covered a period from 1975 to 2004.
Some offending priests were shifted from parish to parish, leaving them free to abuse again.
The Taoiseach said it was the Irish government’s priority to ensure the highest possible standards of child protection, within the Church and elsewhere, and that perpetrators of abuse are brought to justice.
“As to the implications for other individuals of the report’s findings, I believe that just as there must be no ambiguity about the fact that all institutions and individuals are answerable to the law of the land, whatever their status, it is for those institutions and their members to determine the appropriateness of any individual to hold ecclesiastical office,” he said.
The report investigated how Church and state authorities handled allegations of child abuse against 46 priests made by 320 children. Eleven priests were convicted of sexual assaults on children.
Vatican Letter Warned Bishops on Abuse Policy
Published: January 18, 2011
A newly disclosed document reveals that Vatican officials told the bishops of Ireland in 1997 that they had serious reservations about the bishops’ policy of mandatory reporting of priests suspected of child abuse to the police or civil authorities.
The document appears to contradict Vatican claims that church leaders in Rome never sought to control the actions of local bishops in abuse cases, and that the Roman Catholic Church did not impede criminal investigations of child abuse suspects.
Abuse victims in Ireland and the United States quickly proclaimed the document to be a “smoking gun” that would serve as important evidence in lawsuits against the Vatican.
“The Vatican is at the root of this problem,” said Colm O’Gorman, an outspoken victim of abuse in Ireland who is now director of Amnesty International there. “Any suggestion that they have not deliberately and willfully been instructing bishops not to report priests to appropriate civil authorities is now proven to be ridiculous.”
But a spokesman for the Vatican said that the document, while authentic, was further proof that past missteps on handling sexual abuse allegations were corrected by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a top official in the Vatican before he became the current pope, Benedict XVI.
The document, a two-page letter, was first revealed by the Irish broadcaster RTE and obtained by The Associated Press.
The letter was written just after a first wave of scandal over sexual abuse by priests in Irish Catholic schools and other facilities — a scandal so big it brought down the Irish government in 1994.
By 1996, an advisory committee of Irish bishops had drawn up a new policy that included “mandatory reporting” of suspected abusers to civil authorities. The letter, signed by Archbishop Luciano Storero, then the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio — or chief representative — in Ireland, told the Irish bishops that the Vatican had reservations about mandatory reporting for both “moral and canonical” reasons. Archbishop Storero died in 2000.
The letter said that bishops who failed to follow canon law procedures precisely might find that their decisions to defrock abusive clerics would be overturned on appeal by Vatican courts.
“The results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same diocesan authorities,” the letter said.
Jeffrey S. Lena, a lawyer for the Vatican, said in a statement that the letter “has been deeply misunderstood.” He said that its primary purpose was to ensure that bishops used proper canonical procedures to discipline their priests so that the punishments were not overturned on technical grounds. He said the letter was also intended to question the validity of the Irish bishops’ policies, because they were issued merely as a “study document.”
Mr. Lena added, “In stark contrast to news reports, the letter nowhere instructed Irish bishops to disregard civil law reporting requirements.”
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that the letter represented an approach to sexual abuse cases shaped by a particular Vatican office, the Congregation for the Clergy, before 2001. That year, Pope John Paul II charged the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by the future Pope Benedict, with handling such cases.
“It refers to a situation that we’ve now moved beyond,” Father Lombardi said. “That approach has been surpassed, including its ideas about collaborating with civil authorities.”
He played down the idea that the letter was a smoking gun. “It’s not new,” he said. “They’ve known about it in Ireland for some time.”
But Mr. O’Gorman said that the letter was not known until its disclosure on Monday by RTE.
Martin Long, a spokesman for the Irish bishops, said that the revelation that the bishops had faced Vatican disapproval for resolving to report abuse cases to the police as far back as 1996 had prompted an outpouring of supportive e-mails and phone calls.
“The church in Ireland did receive a great number of public calls that reflected the public welcome for the fact that the Irish bishops have been so proactive for so long in working to improve child protection guidelines,” he said.
Mr. Long would not comment on the letter, but he reflected a widespread feeling among church officials that the Irish bishops had borne an unfair share of the recriminations that have been heaped on the church.
He noted that the Irish church had adopted a policy of mandatory reporting of all cases of child sexual abuse to the civil authorities in 1996, and said the policy had been progressively strengthened since then, despite the fact that mandatory reporting in such cases was not required by law in the Irish Republic.
An investigation by the Irish government that took nine years and was released in 2009 found that abuse was “endemic” in church-run schools and orphanages for decades, and that thousands of children were victims.
Pope Benedict sent a pastoral letter to the church in Ireland, accepted the resignations of some bishops and ordered an investigation, known as an “apostolic visitation,” of Irish seminaries and several dioceses. Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is in charge of the seminary visitation, announced that he would spend about three weeks from now until early February interviewing seminarians in Rome and in Ireland.
Rachel Donadio contributed reporting from Rome, and John F. Burns from London.