I tried to watch the movie, “The Magdalene Sisters” but had to stop, not because the movie was bad but because the movie made me so angry. If you’re unfamiliar with these spots from hell, they were convents run by the Catholic Church in several countries, and devoted to the ‘penance’ of wayward women. In them, women would toil over laundry 6 days a week, usually from 5 in the morning until they went to bed at 7 at night. If this sounds like something that must have happened a hundred years or so ago, think again: the last laundry closed its doors in 1996.
The worst of these were in Ireland, but there were Magdalene convents in Australia, North America, Scotland, and England. Women were put in these, many times without their consent, because they had a baby out of wedlock, or their families felt that the girls had ’sinned’ by having sex (or they thought the girls had sex). In some cases, the were intered if the girls were Catholic orphans and the Sisters thought them too pretty and therefore wanted to save them from themselves.
At the Laundries, they were forced to strip naked once a week as the Sisters taunted their bodies: that they were fat or their breasts too big–humiliating the girls. There hair was kept short and they were dressed in coarse shapeless dresses, their breasts bound tightly so that they seem flat chested. Some were sexually abused, both by Sisters and by the Priests. Many were beaten or otherwise tortured, and in Ireland, not allowed to leave on their own, even when they reached adult age.
It wasn’t until one of the Laundries was sold in the 1990’s and 133 bodies of women were found in unmarked graves that the story of the horror of these Convents started to be told.
A few years back I read about one woman put into the Convent for wayward behavior in the late 1960’s, and was stunned to realize that was only a few years earlier than my own ‘wayward’ behavior here in the States. I would say, “Thank God, I wasn’t born in Ireland”, except as one of the former inmates said, what kind of God exists that would allow such cruelty to innocent young girls?
The history of the Magdalenes started getting international attention when a reporter with the RTE (Irish Television), Mary Raftery, did a story on the institutions. In this country, we learned about it when 60 Minutes ran a story on it the same year. Yeah, the same ‘bad boy’ 60 Minutes of the infamous CBS documents. I guess it takes one set of ‘bad’ people to expose the truth about another set of ‘bad’ people.
The Catholic Church, of course, denounced the work as lies and fabrications, a stance it would hold through subsequent documentaries and movie release.