While at Atheist Ireland’s conference on Empowering Women through Secularism I encountered a host of experienced, intelligent and well thought of speakers. One of the highlights for me was Elida Radig who spoke about the separation of Church and State. Elida spoke in detail about the issue of clerical compensation for abuse in Australia. You can view Elida’s contribution here .
Of course Ireland is no stranger to the Church avoiding paying compensation to abuse survivors and Elida noted this in her talk. Only last week we have heard of the disgraceful refusal of four prominent orders (ironically titled The Sisters of Mercy, The Sisters of Charity, The Good Shepherd Sisters and The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity) to complete their compensation payments to the survivors of the Magdalene laundries. The compensation scheme is expected to cost between €34.5 million and €58 million when completed. The Orders themselves are not expected to foot the total cost of this but merely contribute to the payment in cooperation with the government. Though no figures have been mentioned it seems to be estimated that the four orders together should pay €20 million. The flat out refusal to even engage with the process of compensating women whom they incarcerated is particularly galling when we consider that one of these orders alone has assets totalling an estimated €1.8 billion. Let that sink in for a minute €1.8 billion, even if they were footing the whole bill it would be but a drop in the ocean when compared to their assets.
Do we trust that the nuns who ran the slave labour laundries are sorry? I certainly don't, to this day I think any of the surviving nuns probably still believe they were doing God's work by incarcerating 'fallen' women. Regardless of how the orders feel about what they did we all know it was horrific and wrong. These women were locked up, some when they were just girls, they were used for slave labour in the laundries, they were horrifically abused and in some cases they had their children taken from them and sold. Their children were sold, not adopted, sold for very high amounts of money by the orders to couples usually from the United States (for further reading on this I recommend the book Banished Babies to see another shameful chapter of our past). These orders of sisters have the audacity to claim charitable status but that charitable status does not extend to the women they have wronged. We hear a lot from the Catholic Church about respect for life. No one respected lives of the women in the Magdalene laundries.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has urged the four orders to reflect on their refusal to pay into the redress scheme. You can help them 'reflect' by peacefully protesting at the Catherine Mc Auley Centre, 23 Herbert St. (corner of Herbert St. and Baggot St. Lower), Dublin 2 – the Dublin headquarters of the Sisters of Mercy at 6pm this evening. See here for more details.