The Terrible Legacy of the Magdalene Laundries

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In recent years one powerful tidal wave after another has lashed the institution of Roman Catholicism, particularly on the island of Ireland. Just recently I have read and listened to horrific stories of abuse within the Magdalene Laundries, institutions which were run by nuns and where women of all ages were incarcerated and used as slaves to wash linen for hotels and other businesses. Amazingly, the last of these institutions was closed down as recently as 1996. Unfortunately all of this happened with the co-operation of the government, the police and those in authority. A girl who escaped from these circumstances and who was caught by the police would ultimately be sent back to face even worse punishment and the horror that she had attempted to escape from. And it was horror; many of these women were abused, starved, assaulted, their heads shaved, their clothes confiscated and also beaten by those who were supposed to be “looking after them.”

Of course many were not women at all – girls as young as ten were brought to the laundries and others were born into the system. Many babies who were born there were taken from their mothers without their consent and given up for adoption. Also, the laundries were supposedly for unmarried mothers, but many were not in this situation. One woman told of how she was thrown into the laundry simply because of her family’s poverty, while another had been discovered out ‘too late at night’ by a passing priest who insisted that she needed to be ‘corrected’ by being incarcerated in the laundry.

Perhaps what is most sad is the fact that much of this happened with the co-operation of the families of the victims. Listening to their stories, I realised that some of the girls were the victims of abuse and yet they were punished for a crime of which they were the victims. This brings to mind many present day situations in countries where Shariah law is enforced and where young girls are still stoned to death, even though many are the victims in the situation.

All of this came to mind in my recent reading of St. John, chapter 8, where the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman, taken in adultery, unto Jesus. As usual the hierarchy of the church were tempting Him, “that they might accuse Him.” (Verse 6) “But Jesus stooped down, and with his fingers wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.” (Verse 6)

“So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (Verse 7)

All of these woman’s accusers, we learn, “went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” (Verse 9)

Jesus asked her: “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?”

She said: “No man, Lord.”

“And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (Verse 11)

Jesus forgave the woman, who was clearly not innocent in this situation – but He also gave her instructions for her future life and ultimate happiness – “Go and sin no more.”

And of course the other person in this adulterous situation was not innocent and her accusers were certainly not innocent, for they went out one by one, having been “convicted by their own conscience.” (Verse 9)

Many situations of cruelty and injustice have come to light in our society in recent years – and no one knows more about it than the Lord Jesus Christ. He knows about every heart that aches and every deep emotional scar and every dear soul who still wakens with nightmares from the events of a past life.

Directly after He spoke those words of forgiveness and instruction to the woman, Jesus again spoke to the Pharisees: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (Verse 12)

If those in authority in our society had truly followed the Lord Jesus and not the false teachings of men, they would have been led of His Spirit and by the light of His Word. (“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119v105). There would have been no cruel institutions, no abuse and no lack of love.

My prayer is that the people of Ireland and the people of our troubled world would turn to His Word, read it and seek His salvation. This salvation cannot be achieved by our own works, (Ephesians 2v8&9); by withdrawing from society and forbidding to marry (1Tim.4v1-3); through ordinances of the church or by putting our trust in anything other than the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4v12)

Jesus said: “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11v28) Rest from sorrow-filled years, love for your fellowman – and eternal rest in His presence now and for evermore.

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