Ireland – a stifling and brutal church and state

‘Suffer little children to come unto me’ – for a religious organisation that flag-waves compassion as a guiding light, the Catholic Church in Ireland spectacularly failed to walk its talk. The brutal and inhumane treatment of unmarried mothers over decades has been exposed in a heart-rending report. Overall 60,000 women over 80 years were put into the ‘care’ of the Catholic Church, described by a local journalist as a ‘shadow state’. The infant mortality rate was staggeringly high at 15%; and in one home 75% of the children born there died one year.

  In those days the church controlled schools, owned hospitals; ran orphanages and homes for unmarried mothers. A compliant state paid the church for these services and didn’t interfere. According to the minister for children, Roderic O’Gorman, the report “makes clear that for decades, Ireland had a stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture, where a pervasive stigmatisation of unmarried mothers and their children robbed those individuals of their agency and sometimes their future”.

   The religious orders who ran some of the homes have apologised but claim that their archives are private, which given that they operated on state money has raised ire.

  The church’s grip has slipped dramatically over the past four decades with a church attendance of 87% in 1981, now down to around 20%.  

  Of the two orders I could find who ran homes:

Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, 5 March 1903 – a controlling Sun Pisces square Pluto organisation, with an afflicted Mars trine Pluto on one side and trine Saturn on the other. Pluto is opposition Uranus and both are being rattled up by the present Solar Eclipses.

Bon Secours Sisters, 24 January 1824, Paris, is a Sun Aquarius trine Mars and sextile Pluto; with a focal point Mars square a Jupiter opposition Neptune; plus a can-be-fanatical Uranus Neptune in Capricorn. And an unyielding Saturn in Taurus.

  Neither were exactly cosy, comforting organisations.

  The Vatican, 7 June 1929, is being stirred up by the Eclipses this year and next rattling up its Gemini Moon, Sun, Mercury and Saturn in Sagittarius. With yet more shocks and jolts as tr Uranus squares its hidden Mars in Leo from mid2021 onwards, joined by the setback-bringer tr Saturn in opposition in 2022. In 2022 as well the Solar Arc Midheaven will conjunct the 12th house Neptune for confusion and indecision and perhaps yet more secrets to emerge from hiding. Their litany of sins mounts daily – with financial corruption, child abusing priests and now this.

  The Ireland 6 December 1922 5pm chart does have a harshly aspected Moon – in Cancer with an exact conjunction to controlling Pluto and in a cold, bleak square to Saturn.  The feminine was ground under foot, for sure.

From what I’ve read over the years the nuns were the worst even more sadistic and cold-hearted than the priests. Audrey Hepburn didn’t do us any favours portraying them as serene and beautiful.

23 thoughts on “Ireland – a stifling and brutal church and state

  1. I know many priests and nuns – some amazing, devoted, compassionate and some who are completely the opposite…bit like the current situation in the USA. As well as Philomena and the Magdalene sisters there is also the film ‘Doubt’ with Meryl Streep which explores these issues, but the most beautiful, horrifying, moving and sensitive exploration of all is a book called ‘A History of Loneliness” by John Boyne who wrote the book ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas’. I really recommend it to anyone who wants to understand not just how or why this happens, but how people actively or unwittingly enable it. I didn’t change my point of view about the abhorrent nature of it – but it left me with really thought provoking questions about right and wrong, compassion, courage, complacency and complicity….not just as a catholic, but as a human being.

  2. This stuff is why Northern Ireland refused to be part of the Republic. The prods of NI were and are genuinely scared of the “papists” who controlled the schools, hospitals and levers of the Irish Republic state and felt they were better off under the protection of the British state, controlled as it was by tolerant mild English Anglicans.

    It’s notable that even in 2021, there arn’t many non catholic religious groups in the Republic of Ireland. No jews, no protestants, no muslims, no Hindus, all of whom are too scared to go there. In sharp contrast to the UK where everyone wants to seek asylum.

    People have memories of poor hindu Savita forced to die because the Catholic doctors in the Republic refused her an emergency abortion (even though that was perfectly legal). The law has changed but are non-Catholics really safer?

    The Protestants of Northern Ireland get a lot of abuse for their fears – but are they really unfounded?

    • Yet it is surprising that religions that are based on fundamentalism such as Islam and some Christian sects, which rely on very narrow and often cruel principles seem to attract more followers than tolerant mild Anglicanism.

    • I had the occasion to hear the Rev. Ian Paisley speak several times while a student at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, USA, while a student there (those days are long behind me now!) What a hard, angry, raging, bitter man I saw in that pulpit. Thus, I wouldn’t cast a halo onto the heads of the Protestants there either. Substituting one flavor of brutality for another in pursuit of power is neither “righteous” or “evolved.”

  3. For anyone wondering how QAnon quickly became the most successful conspiracy theory since at least WWII, especially among women of certain age, I think this is the reason. There’s so much untreated, often intergenerational trauma related to how unwed, but also more generally speaking underpriviledged mothers and their children were treated up until a couple of decades ago. How are these people to trust authorities, when they’ve more likely than not at least heard true stories of these atrocities from people they know?

    Catholic Church has, without any doubt, been the main perpetrator globally, but in the past year or so, I’ve been exposed to other stories about “baby trade”, especially in The US, but also globally, in the 20th century. Georgia Tann – whose organisation had no religious affiliation – resorted even to kidnapping children to keep up a steady flow of fair, blue eyed babies much in demand by affluent couples in the mid-20th century. Dr. Thomas Hicks would tell poor mothers their babies had died in childbirth and snatch them away. “Birthing homes” ran by charities seem to have been relatively common all through English speaking World up until the early 1970’s.

  4. Hi Marjorie, not sure I’m posting this in the right place but I’d be interested to hear your take on the chart of the “poster boy” of the US Capitol insurrection, horned guy Jake Angeli aka Jacob Chansley aka QAnon Shaman. Wikipedia gives 1988 as his year of birth but based on my research his actual date of birth is July 29, 1987, 12:23 pm in Phoenix, Arizona. Thank you.

  5. I’m not Catholic, nor was my late mother, who was not in the least religious. At the end of her life, while she was living in an independent living senior community, she was conned by the Cuban-born devout Catholic bank manager at the facility and the very Catholic Irish-American lawyer the bank manager recommended to draw up a new will for her to leave a quarter of her estate to the Catholic Church, allegedly for “the care of orphan children.” She died in 2002 just as the pedophile priest scandal was breaking in the US. My mother was a difficult woman but, when she was in her right mind, she would have been appalled by what she’d been manipulated into doing. I was executor of the estate and there was little I could do aside from extracting a letter from the local Virginia Catholic Diocese specifying that none of her funds would be used to pay off settlements relating to pedophile priests. Of course money is fungible and there was no way to enforce the agreement.

    The coda to this is that a few months later I was assigned a story by my editor about Casa Cornelia, an immigration law firm in San Diego. It was founded by two nun- lawyers to provide pro bono legal representation to immigrants, and especially children, seeking asylum in the United States. Those nuns were the closest to being genuine saints of anyone I’ve met. The law firm is still going strong, busier than ever trying to help desperate people in soon-to-be ending Trumpland. Meeting them provided some counterbalance to my mother’s being conned.

  6. I was raised in Ireland and as a teenager in the 1980’s such practices had discontinued but that said Irish society was still disparging and judgmental of unmarried girls who became pregnant. They’d be the talk of the locality and there would be a perceived view of the girls bringing ‘shame’ on the family. Only when the tragic death of an Irish pregnant teenager Anne Lovett who died giving birth to her baby alone at the foot of a religious statue in 1984 did society start to kick back from such ludicrous attitudes.
    In the early 1990’s once the church scandal broke about priests who had committed hideous paedophile crimes many people turned their back on the Catholic Church at that point. I was horrified enough too to consider turning away from the Church until a priest spoke of the church scandals – visibly upset, horrified and sorry for all that had taken place which was also news to him. He asked not to tarnish all priests with the same brush. Because of him and because I have encountered genuine people who are priests and nuns I decided to not abandon my faith. But the religious entity that is the Catholic Church does need to purge itself of all evil and cruelty, modernise and practice what it preaches.

  7. Reading this post and these comments and having knowledge of whats gone on over the decades with streams of abuse, priests sexually abusing kids in their tens of thousands as well as raping nuns, utterly disgusts me. It is so shockingly common that i cannot look at a priest without assuming he has predatory leanings and is probably a pedophile and a nun is a vicious, physical bully who gets an almost sexual ecstasy from debasing other humans. Also, the Vatican kept its dirty little hands in its pockets after the Notre Dame fire too so you can add impossibly stingy and greedy to that list.

    I couldnt give a rats toss if the odd church and their congregation do some good once in a while. So what? If anyone is offended by this comment, tough. The church is not a company that trips up every now and then with a couple of goofs. It houses organized and systematic rape, abuse and horrific violence a nazi would be proud of. i wouldnt be shocked if murder was common too.

    Organized religion is one of the most evil creations bestowed on man. i cannot for the life of me understand why you would follow it as a lifestyle unless you have been indoctrinated early. Its music to my ears that its free falling into the sewers where it belongs. Its deeply sad that so many women and little children had their lives ruined or ended by such a vile organization. Good riddance to it.

  8. I’d add Mother Theresa to that list! As an Irish schoolchild in the 80s and 90s, Mother Theresa was held up as a viable career option for girls. I remember having to write essays about her in primary school.

    It doesn’t surprise me that nuns would look down on girls, who in the parlance of the day, “got into trouble”. They were took vows of obedience and chastity, and here they are, tasked with managing Ireland’s +60,000 “dirty secrets” who shamed their families and failed to follow the Church’s teachings, in their eyes. So incredibly snobby and cruel. Some of these vicious nuns wouldn’t be out of place in a KGB gulag.

    It still states in the Irish Constitution that the woman’s place is in the home. (I’m paraphrasing, but anyone who is interested can see Article 40.2 of the Constitution at There wasn’t many options for Irish girls: teaching, nursing, housewife, emigration, or the convent. If you got married, you had to give up your job, end of story & no exceptions. This marriage bar was only lifted in the 1970s, but Article 40 remains. What a waste of talent and skill for our society.

    I find it hard to reconcile the Irish matriarchal family culture with Irish society’s attempts to keep women quiet, or at home. I’m glad things are changing. I don’t know anyone my age who goes to church at weekends.

    • Irish reader, your contribution breaks my heart. I grew up in New Zealand, was taught by the Sisters of Mercy, my brother by the Marist brothers….. the parents paid huge amounts to have us educated, but never knew, on Friday afternoons, that (sworn not to reveal the secret) we would get on our hands and knees and polish the convent floors……of course in the 50’s we had no notion of what was “normal” but the worst thing I realise in retrospect is that there was a girl in the class – Maori – who never spoke, never biked home with us, never was invited to tea – because she lived with the nuns. I remember asking my mother why there was a Maori girl (!!!) in our class and she said she was an orphan!!! She was a half-caste, which I realised only about 20 yrs ago, and feel guilty to the core that we never asked her to tea, homework etc after. She wouldn’t even have had a bike, just disappeared into the nunnery after school, and never said a word, I remember her face, even now….. We were also told to not tell our parents that on Friday afternoon – special treat – no classes, but we got on our hands and knees and polished the whole linoleum floor…….where did she go after there? where is she now?

    • I was educated at a Catholic school. There were perhaps one or two nuns who you could say were good, kind people but an alarming number of these women were just vicious, cruel and downright screwed up, especially regarding the female body and sexuality and this was the late 1970s.

      If you look at papal history, successive popes were venal tyrants so really the Catholic Church has never been about the teachings of Christ, but about wealth, power and the abuse of it.

      • Yes! I remember Sister Mary du Padua (!) asking me when all of us had to sing at a funeral (!!!) if I had “matured” – I had no idea what she was talking about so said no. Perhaps I was looking out of sorts having to forego bloody Patience Strong (!!) who we all had to recite, and detested…. instead of farewelling another departed…..there was a huge fence between the boys’ school and ours….. pathetic.

        • Sounds similar to my mother’s experience, Maggy – she was a boarder and the nuns were absolutely obsessed with preventing girls getting into bed with other girls which was seen as potentially calamitous. Of course, my Mum was only 9 or 10 at the time and had zero clue about human sexuality, had no idea why the nuns were so alarmed by two children snuggling up together, desperate for comfort having been separated from their parents, but saw it as something dangerous and sinister. It’s all so twisted.

          • !! ……but who told the nuns these things. Priests? What did they learn when they were in the nunnery…..?

  9. In Quebec also, another traditionally Catholic land, we have had numerous sexual scandals and class actions involving just about every Catholic order. The worst was when they preyed on native women and children, who have always been the outcasts and the downtrodden here. They have subverted Christ’s message. While she was not subjected to sexual abuse, my wife still hates the nuns after more than 50 years because they preferred rich children and the poor were humiliated. The Church did a lot of good, but the people of Quebec have decided it also did a lot of bad. Church attendance is even lower here than in Ireland at about 10% and declining because it is mostly old people and some immigrants. Churches are closing by the dozens each year.

    • Oddly enough, me and my mum have been talking about this exact subject today after I had mentioned the film Philomena; which is brilliant by the way but desperately sad also. I’m not Catholic and don’t wish to be; i don’t think it’s a gentle religion at all and what has gone on within the church in the name of god is unforgivable.

    • My mother was at a Catholic school in the 1930’s. The brutality was considered the norm. One of the nuns had a cane. The morning ritual of this ‘Mother’ was to stand behind the door at bell time and any late children would hear the swish as it was drawn back against her robe. It was then brought down full force on whichever part of the anatomy came through the door first. Didn’t matter, head ,face, whatever, you would be hit. It sounds almost farcical but a celebrity from the UK wrote about it in his autobiography. His mother went to the same school and reading his mother’s account was like listening to my Mother’s horror stories again. Even more disturbing was the normality my mother attached to this. This was everyday life in a Catholic school. She was beaten three times for not bringing knitting wool into school. Her family of 14 were too poor to supply but my mother in her shame said she ‘forgot’. When she ‘forgot the second day she was beaten again. When she finally confessed to having lied in her shame, she received the hardest beating for the ‘sin’

  10. Thanks Marjorie for putting light on this cruelty.
    “Audrey Hepburn didn’t do us any favours portraying them as serene and beautiful.”
    Philomena did 2013. Heartbroken after seeing that film.

    • Thank you Marjorie. ‘Philomena’ was painful to watch but told a story which really needed to be told. Likewise ‘The Magdalene Sisters’. Any other organisation guilty of such heinous abuse would have been shut down years ago.

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