ACP Statement on Mother and Baby Homes Report
Association of Catholic Priests
statement on the
Commission of Investigation’s Report on
Mother and Baby Homes
Friday 15th January 2021
The Association of Catholic Priests would like to associate itself with the various expressions of sorrow and regret from episcopal voices in response to the Report on the Mother and Baby Homes.
We are aware that societal and familial attitudes played a part in the abuse and oppression of so many women. But we fully agree with Bishop Paul Dempsey of Achonry when he says that we “must face the difficult reality that it was a society which was deeply influenced by the Catholic Church”.
We also wish to endorse his words that “the church had a distorted view of sexuality that seemed obsessive” and that it “was exercising an unhealthy power over people’s lives, especially in the most intimate areas of life”.
This report highlights yet again two very damaging aspects of Catholic teaching and practice dating back to the early centuries of the Church – an underlying, but enormously influential, strain of misogyny, and a negative and oppressive attitude to sexuality, particularly in relation to women.
Roy Donovan 087-2225150; Gerry O’Connor 087-2320295
Tim Hazelwood 087-1337164; John Collins 086-8046020
For verification: Liamy Mac Nally, ACP Admin Sec 087-2233220
Good press release from ACP, also from Bishop Dempsey which I had not seen until now, dealing with church attitude to sexuality, celibacy etc. That being said lets not forget the countless priests, nuns, brothers who gave so much to education, health and social services when the state did not or could not afford to and they dare not speak up now to say this. How can that much be measured especially when there are calls for reparation, property to be seized and such? Many of the religious in those institutions were victims too in a way. Many, indeed most are dead now, those that are left are old and probably in need of care. A thought strikes me too about the high incidence of deaths in such homes compared to the outside world, at a time of rampant diseases, such as gastroenteritis, etc., at a time when there were little or no drugs. Same is happening now, sadly, in places like nursing homes where there are large concentrations of people.
Noelle on Late Late tonight –
‘our testimonies were changed’
‘we were not listened to’
‘it was not a survivors’ first report’
‘survivors were to get the report first’
‘no time to read the report before the apology’.
Have we not learned anything from previous reports? How is it that we keep on getting it wrong? Why is it that in Ireland we still have so little respect for women? What is it in our DNA about women?
What is wrong with a Church that can’t treat women equally in ministry or decision making? How can it be the Church of Jesus Christ?
Shouldn’t the Catholic Church in Ireland be outspoken about the need for women’s equality and be to the forefront of pushing the world-wide Church for dramatic changes of structures – otherwise we will have learned nothing from this report.
They will keep on saying of us ‘we were not listened to’.
Good statement, ACP, thanks for sharing it. I have posted it on the parish Facebook page, and suggest other members do likewise. Thanks to Paul Dempsey in Achonry for his prophetic words…
Thanks to the ACP for that statement and also to Bishop Dempsey. Whatever one says about Society, the State and the cruelty of families, the Catholic Church ruled over all and its leaders failed miserably to challenge the prevailing attitude of the time. In that failure, they betrayed the compassionate Christ of the Gospels. There were a few prophetic voices like those of Fr. Fergal O’Connor and Fr. James Good. The latter got frontpage coverage in The Sunday Press when he said he had met over 1000 ‘unmarried mothers’ and he did not believe they were capable of one mortal sin between them all. Sadly, now we know the nature of the real sins that were committed.
I had the privilege of participating- albeit online – in a Sunday Eucharist this evening where the priest, because of the week that’s in it, chose the Gospel of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3 – 11). With humility and compassion, he spoke – ‘preached’ isn’t a gentle enough word – of the injustices suffered by the women and children in the Mother and Baby Homes and their entitlement to justice now.
Excellent and succinct!
Just what I have been thinking and very well documented in personal reminiscences in media.
So much hidden pain, grief.
Thinking too of the reopened wounds and need for compassion, understanding and support.
I read this article thinking it was from Fintan O’Toole… https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/ireland-mother-baby-homes-abuse-report-b1787252.html
Good analysis by Fintain O’Toole (subscriber only article which may not be viewable to everyone)
Frances Burke #8:
Fintan O’Toole writes vehemently about “spiritual terrorism” in relation to mother and baby homes, with the Catholic church at the root of it. He seems extraordinarily unaware of other social influences behind the Mother and Baby Homes.
In the 19th century, the British government was concerned about the effects of venereal diseases (sexually transmitted infections) on their armed forces in reducing their fighting abilities. In 1864, the first of three Contagious Diseases Acts (CDAs) which permitted the compulsory inspection of prostitutes for venereal disease in certain military camps in both England and Ireland. In effect the acts subjected women who were on the street to arbitrary and compulsory medical examination. If found to be suffering from gonorrhoea or syphilis, she was forcibly detained in a Lock hospital for a period of up to nine months. In Ireland, the ‘subjected districts’ were Cork, Cobh and the Curragh camp. As there was no definition of the word prostitute made available to the police or the courts, all women were possible suspects.
That legislation was repealed after about 20 years. On 16 June 1883 Dr Arthur Conan Doyle of Portsmouth wrote in The Medical Times and Gazette about the arrival of military in Portsmouth from India, and added, “Upon the same day several diseased women left the hospital presumably with the intention of meeting that transport, and there was no law to prevent it.” Should a soldier yield to them and become ill, “the chief fault should not lie at his door. It surely emanates logically from those hysterical legislators who set loose these bearers of contagion, and their like, upon society.”
Similarly, the combined influence of the “Enlightenment” and social Darwinism led to many countries adopting the policy of eugenics and compulsory sterilisation of those deemed unfit to be parents. The Report on Mother and Baby Homes (9:45) says: “The Commission has received one allegation of eugenical practice but it has no reason to believe that it was ever practiced in Ireland not least because the concept was at variance with the teachings of the Catholic church.”
Paragraph 18 of the Executive Summary of the Report says: “Mother and baby homes were greatly superior to the county homes where, until the 1960s, many unmarried mothers and their children were resident.”
There are certainly faults in the Catholic church, as in every enterprise where human beings are involved, including the Irish Times and ACP! Whatever the faults he finds in the Catholic church, Fintan needs to use a wide-angle lens to avoid the trap of tunnel vision.
Frances@8 could you, or somebody else, copy and paste Fintan O’Toole’s article.
I have the same problem with articles in the Sunday Independent –I get the actual copy sent to me every week, so I am reluctant to take a digital subscription as well –so, on occasions when I want to share an article that I have read, I cannot.
Fintain O’Toole – Irish Times 19th Jan, 2021
Mary Lavin’s story Sarah, written in 1943, begins: “Sarah had a bit of a bad name.” It ends, a few laconic pages later, with Sarah in a ditch “dead as a rat” and “the child dead beside her!” It is, as one of the principal characters concludes, where “the likes of her belong”.
In 1966, Edna O’Brien said: “I don’t think I have any pleasure in any part of my body, because my first and initial body thoughts were blackened by the fear of sin: and therefore I think of my body as a sort of vehicle for sin.”
In 1969, Alan Bestic reported the words of a Catholic social worker in England about unmarried pregnant Irish girls: “The fear in these girls has to be seen to be believed. It is only by endless gentleness that we can persuade them that going back [to Ireland] to have their baby wouldn’t be so awful. What sort of society do you have in Ireland that puts the girls into this state?”
The fear of sin, the fear of society, the fear of ending up dead in a ditch. Maybe it is too much to expect that an official report, however carefully constructed, could capture this reign of terror. But unless we acknowledge it, we cannot do justice to its survivors.
This culture of fear fused the physical and the spiritual, the social and the religious, into a single, overwhelming system of domination. Authority was so absolute because it operated seamlessly in the soul and in the world.
The report struggles very badly with the idea of coercion. Consider these two sentences: “There is no evidence that women were forced to enter mother and baby homes by the church or State authorities. Most women had no alternative.”
What does that mean? If you have no alternative but to do something, are you not “forced” to do it?
The report finds that unmarried pregnant women were “forced to leave home” and many were “forced to give birth” in the county homes that were just workhouses by other names. But it still claims that they were not forced by church and State either to enter these places or to give up their babies for adoption.
How can we explain this contradiction? Only, I think, by the resort to very narrow and legalistic definitions. Since women were not physically arrested by gardaí and locked away in the homes, and since they were not (for the most part) physically made to sign adoption papers, they were, technically speaking, not coerced.
But coercion, as anyone familiar with domestic abuse can tell you, comes in many forms. And the most important one in the Ireland I grew up in was spiritual. That power, for the vast majority of us, was wielded by one institution and one institution only: the Catholic Church.
The overwhelming reality of that world was that the church had the monopoly on damnation and salvation. It is very hard for people born in a secular Ireland to understand what that meant.
Most people really believed in hell, in the devil and in sin. Even in 1981, when the domain of the mother and baby homes was receding, 54 per cent of Irish people still believed in hell (as against 23 per cent of Europeans); 57 per cent in Satan (against 25 per cent); and 85 per cent in sin (against 57 per cent). Ten years earlier, these figures would have been much higher.
If you leave this out, it is very easy to blame, as the report broadly does, the treatment of unmarried mothers on the harshness of their families and on the fathers of their children.
It is indeed important to acknowledge the cruelty of Irish society, its obsessions with respectability and property, its misogyny and its snobbery, its endless capacity (honed by generations of mass emigration) to make its own realities disappear.
But the driving force of this cruelty was spiritual terrorism. The sum of all fears was the dread of perdition. It was within this orbit that, as O’Brien put it, the female body was “blackened by the fear of sin”.
There was no such thing as “society” as distinct from this dominion of damnation, no neutral State beyond its reach. It pervaded everything and invaded each of our bodies.
The brutal institutions of social control – industrial schools, Magdalene asylums, and mother and baby homes – were the outward signs of this inward terror. They expressed in bricks and mortar the malign bully that lived inside our souls.
It was the church that placed, and kept, it there. Why did these abusive institutions survive so long? How could babies be buried without even the most basic recognition of their existence? Because people were afraid of bishops and priests and nuns and the authority they held, not just over this life, but over the next.
Look up “coercive control” on the Garda website. It says it can be “hard to spot when in the relationship itself” and this “can stop victims from seeing the reality of their situation”. This is what happened with the church’s power and we will not be over it until we can see that reality clearly.