For the past several decades, the media has told a story of how the Catholic Church in Ireland operated homes for troubled youth – the Magdalene Laundries – that were rife with unspeakable barbarity and unrivaled cruelty from the nuns who operated them. However, a new report thoroughly examining the famed laundries now reveals that the media's characterization of the laundries has been complete fiction.
Just a couple weeks ago, the Irish government released the independent McAleese Report, which sought to examine the country's role in the laundries, which operated for over two centuries until 1996. The findings are indeed eye-opening, and one of the only journalists to candidly reveal the report's discoveries is the UK Telegraph's Brendan O'Neill. Kudos to Mr. O'Neill for his honesty and good journalism.
The simple facts
Of the many scores of women who were interviewed for the report, exactly zero reported being sexually abused by a nun. None. Nada. Zilch. In a recent must-read blog post at the Telegraph, writer O'Neill explains:
"In the Irish mind, and in the minds of everyone else who has seen or read one of the many films, plays and books about the Magdalene laundries, these were horrific institutions brimming with violence and overseen by sadistic, pervy nuns. Yet the McAleese Report found not a single incident of sexual abuse by a nun in a Magdalene laundry. Not one. Also, the vast majority of its interviewees said they were never physically punished in the laundries."
These facts, of course, are in stark contrast to what the media has endlessly peddled about the laundries for decades: that these were places of rank horror, sadistic abuse, and torture.
The women speak
What about those characterizations in movies, television shows, stage plays, and newspaper articles of sadistic nuns beating the living daylights out of anyone who made the slightest misstep? As O'Neill explains, even the authors of the report seemed flummoxed by their own findings that such portraits were in fact bogus:
"The small number of cases of corporal punishment reported to McAleese consisted of the kind of thing that happened in many normal schools in the 1960s, 70s and 80s: being caned on the legs or rapped on the knuckles. The authors of the McAleese Report, having like the rest of us imbibed the popular image of the Magdalene laundries as nun-run concentration camps, seem to have been taken aback by 'the number of women who spoke positively about the nuns'."
Then there are the words from the women themselves, those who actually lived in the laundries. Here is what one woman had to say about the media coverage over the past decades about the laundries:
"It has shocked me to read in papers that we were beat and our heads shaved and that we were badly treated by the nuns … I was not touched by any nun and I never saw anyone touched."
At this point, there is little doubt that the media has successfully portrayed the laundries in the most cruel and unflattering light to advance an anti-Catholic agenda. In fact, the truth reveals that Ireland's nuns operated these homes out of Christian charity as their vows called them to do.
Indeed, the media has some heavy explaining to do here. The media has recklessly and maliciously portrayed the Magdalene Laundries. O'Neill concludes:
"Catholic-bashers frequently accuse the Catholic religion of promoting a childish narrative of good and evil that is immune to factual evidence. Yet they do precisely the same, in the service of their fashionable and irrational new religion of anti-Catholicism."
Amen. And kudos again to O'Neill for finally getting the truth out.