After too many book-less weeks, I delved into “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” by Martin Sixsmith. I knew that it wouldn’t be a light, escapist read. It chronicles the poignant and heart wrenching story of the forced adoption of a young Irish boy. Philomena, his young unwed mother, was sent to one of many convents in Ireland whose mission was to house “fallen” women until their babies were born. The women repaid the nuns’ “kindness” with up to three years of free labor in their kitchens and laundries. In reality the women were forcibly enslaved in wretched, harsh workhouses.
The story of these asylums makes my Catholic heart shudder in shame. The cruelty of the nuns was grounded in a firm belief in the unredeemable sinfulness of the girls. It also described the power that the church had over the government, a power used to fill the ecclesial coffers. If a family had the money, the young woman’s freedom could be bought after the baby was born. If not, she had to work off the debt.
The young mothers were forced to sign over their babies who were then handed over for adoption by American couples in return for a “donation” to the convent. Philomena’s son was three years old when he was taken from her.
The theology of fear and constant threats of eternal damnation were used to ensure the complicity and silence of the birth mothers. It is the all too familiar strategy used by child abusers in the church. When the truth began to leak out, many records were destroyed by the nuns and church officials. Today, the victims continue to fight for fair and just recompense. Again, an all too familiar story.
This is not an anti-Catholic story like some claim. The church’s actions are indefensible. There are no words to describe the shame of such cruelty and injustice. The church has much to repent in her history. This is a story of sins that must be repented and never repeated.
(This news story just came out today: Irish religious orders confirm they will not pay Magdalene Laundry victims.)