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The Word on the Week

Magdalene Laundries.

It is a source of wonder that things can go on in a small country for many years and yet go unnoticed. This seems to be the case of the 10 Magdalene Laundries who are reckoned to have had 30,000 women pass through their hands.

When they were founded their task was to rehabilitate young girls back into society. A hundred years on into the 20th century and these places had become increasingly prison-like with a daily diet of long hours of laundry and needlework.

As there was the presumption that the girls had sinned their day included extended periods of prayer and discipline was maintained by means of enforced silence.

The extent to which suffering was endured came to light with the publication of the McAleese Report which was discussed in the Dial this week.

The evidence showed that Irish courts routinely sent women convicted of petty crimes to the laundries; the government awarded lucrative contracts to the laundries without any insistence on protection and fair treatment of their workers, and Irish state employees helped keep laundry facilities stocked with workers by bringing women to work there and returning any workers who escaped.

For those incarcerated, whatever wrongs they did, and for many it was simply that they existed, their rejection must have seemed complete. The brutality of the regime could have been coped with better if there had been some love, some compassion, some link to family, even an end date to look forward to. Instead there was silence, the removal of self worth and an inability to share even their sorrows with each other.

The Taoiseach’s apology on behalf of the Nation was fulsome and complete. He had taken the time to hear many of their stories as they recounted how they endured all that “a cruel and pitiless Ireland” had thrown at them. Perhaps the noblest thing which he did was to believe them – something which many had not experienced before.

It was a cathartic moment when at the conclusion of the Taoiseach’s speech. The T D’s stood to applaud the survivors in the visitors’ gallery, who in turn applauded the House.

Although no one mentioned it the Gospel had been played out. A confession of past sins was followed by a genuine apology and the promise of restitution to come.

The Word for the Week must surely be for all of us, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John chapter 1 verse 9.

All sin is ultimately against God and forgiveness is the prerogative of the One who is “faithful and just to forgive” because Jesus has made a complete atonement for them.

It exactly matches the survivors’ needs and it exactly matches our needs also.