Compassion is it

Compassion is it

 Sep 20th, 2009 | By 

Category: Notes and Comment Blog

Oh dear god, oh jeezis, oh hell.

She told me she had given birth in a country convent at Roscrea in County Tipperary on 5 July 1952. She was 18 when she met a young man who bought her a toffee apple on a warm autumn evening at the county fair. “I had just left convent school,” she said with an air of wistful regret. “I went in there when my mother died, when I was six and a half, and I left at 18 not knowing a thing about the facts of life. I didn’t know where babies came from … ” When her pregnancy became obvious, her family had Philomena “put away” with the nuns.

But after that blissful start, things didn’t go so well for Philomena.

After her baby, Anthony, was born, the mother superior threatened Philomena with damnation if ever she breathed a word about her “guilty secret”…Philomena was one of thousands of Irish women sent to convents in the 1950s and 60s, taken away from their homes and families because the Catholic church said single mothers were moral degenerates who could not be allowed to keep their children…After giving birth, the girls were allowed to leave the convent only if they or their family could pay the nuns £100. It was a substantial sum, and those who couldn’t afford it – the vast majority – were kept in the convent for three years, working in kitchens, greenhouses and laundries or making rosary beads and religious artefacts, while the church kept the profits from their labour.

In other words they were arrested, imprisoned, and enslaved by the Catholic church. This is not news, of course, but it’s always useful to be reminded of it. Especially in a world where we keep getting told and told and told by Karen Armstrong and her fans that ‘compassion is at the heart of every great religion.’ If that were even a little bit true, the savage unrelenting brutality of the Irish catholic church would have been impossible.

Even crueller than the work was the fact that mothers had to care for their children, developing maternal ties and affection that were to be torn asunder at the end of their three-year sentence. Like all the other girls, Philomena Lee was made to sign a renunciation document agreeing to give up her three-year-old son and swearing on oath: “I relinquish full claim for ever to my child and surrender him to Sister Barbara.”…Philomena says she fought against signing the terrible undertaking. “Oh God, my heart. I didn’t want him to go. I just craved and begged them to please let me keep him. None of us wanted to give our babies up, none of us. But what else could we do? They just said, ‘You have to sign these papers.’”

Compassion is at the heart of every great religion.

Philomena embarked on a lonely, desperate search to find him. She went back to the convent in Roscrea several times between 1956 and 1989 and asked the nuns to help her. Each time they refused, brandishing her sworn undertaking that she would “never attempt to see” her child…Early on in the search I realised that the Irish Catholic hierarchy had been engaged in what amounted to an illicit baby trade. From the end of the second world war until the 1970s, it considered the thousands of souls born in its care to be the church’s own property. With or without the agreement of their mothers, it sold them to the highest bidder…[H]e was haunted by half-remembered visions of his first three years in Ireland and by a lifelong yearning to find his mother. Separated by fate, mother and child spent decades looking for each other, repeatedly thwarted by the refusal of the nuns to reveal information, each of them unaware that the other was also yearning and searching.

There’s no happy ending. Read the whole thing. Meditate on compassion.


  • #1

    OB: “If that were even a little bit true, the savage unrelenting brutality of the Irish catholic church would have been impossible.”

    Careful now, careful. You’re talking about the Infallible Church here.

    When Armstrong says “compassion is at the heart of every great religion”, I think she means that ‘compassion’ is mentioned with sufficient frequency in its documents to make it attractive to its faithful and prospective recruits: along with a sufficient measure of blood-curdling stories to scare the pants off them and keep them compliant.

    I did what you suggested: read the whole thing and meditated on compassion. Documents which could have brought some peace of mind to the suffering were kept from them, then destroyed lest they slip out of Church control.

    A god who is both loving and spiteful should not be taken lightly. Vengeance is His.

  • #2

    Jennifer B. Phillips

    In an account chock-full of tragedy and loss, the bitterest bit is the ending, which reveals that after the unimaginable cruelty done to her and her son, and to countless other mothers and sons, world without end, amen, Philomena is:

    1. Attending Mass again and

    2. Blaming herself for everything.

    Words fail me.

  • #3

    Marie-Therese O’ Loughlin

    “Attending Mass again”

    Well, Jennifer, B. it is known that sometimes criminals go back to scenes of their crime.

    ‘Blaming herself for everything.”

    Unmarried mothers’ like Philomena, were classed as FALLEN WOMEN by Irish society, hence the negative thought processes. if she was not brainwashed with that negativity she would not have been in the position of handing over her precious child to the religious.

    The church has a lot to answer for the diabolical treatment it doled out to thousands upon thousands of women. Not counting too children who were deemed “bad” because they were offspring of women of the ilk of Philomena.

    165,000 Irish children passed though industrial schools. is that not a phenomenal amount for such a small Island nation?

    Harvesting of children is still an unspoken eerie subject. The country has still not gotten over the contents of the Ryan report. See B&W In Focus.

  • #4

    So she still loves Big Brother? I’m not surprised. Some people desperately need religion, however vile the faith they’ve been brainwashed by may be.

  • #5

    I can understand Philomena going back to church. Religious indoctrination is very deep. Bart Ehrman, the agnostic biblical scholar, who writes several useful books for those who are moving out of religious faith, speaks of the seismic personal problems that crop up when the religious person realises that faith is empty. The beliefs go very deep. In his case, the fear of hell and eternal suffering was very real. Just imagine, the idea of a being which cannot die and so will go on suffering for eternity! That should be enough to convince anyone to leave religion forever, and yet it is a thought that binds many people more closely to it.

    That doesn’t diminish, of course, the horror of the story that is told. It is hard to believe that, within living memory, people were treated that way by people who were acting on behalf of a God of love! And by the same organisation that glorifies the family, the love of mothers for their children, and their responsibility for them. It makes me sick.

    Don’t forget, they used to burn people alive out of such love. The Archbishop of Canterbury is quite prepared to force dying people to die in pain out of love. Sometimes, one could almost wish there were a hell for such people, who speak of love while doing the works of hate. I conclude, though, that universal love is really not a great thing. I should much rather be respected by others than loved by all. Even God. Were there a God, I should wish to be respected by God, not loved by it. Love is not above cruelty, but respect, I think, is.

  • #6

    Marie-Therese O’ Loughlin

    I would suspect that because Michael Hess, had religious connections, from the adoptive parents’ relatives, perspective – that this would have been all the more reason, (as in the twins and countless other cases) why the religious refused to give personal biological family information. I know for a fact that children who came from “religious” families in Goldenbridge were talked about in whispers by the religious.

    A silence perpetually hovered over the mention of the background of these specific children.

    They fortunately so were never singled out to suffer daily humiliations – which was otherwise aimed at children who had to hold up their wet sheets and be reminded by Sr.X. of the lowly status of their parent(s). Nonetheless, there was a similar pain in having to withstand all their childhoods utter silence about themselves.

  • #7

    “The twins were finally reunited with their mother, who was living a very lonely neglected life.”

    Oh god those bastards those bastards those bastards.

  • #8

    I can’t stand this shit. The enforced separation is the worst – it’s intolerable. It’s an intolerablething to do to people.

    Reunions are a haunting theme in literature and film, you know. Shakespeare staged them over and over again – Lear and Cordelia, Viola and Sebastian, Leontes and Hermione, Imogen and everyone, Prospero and everyone – and they’re incredibly moving. It’s moving to hang around airports and watch the reunions. Reunions are a good thing. And these wicked wicked wicked sisters of ‘Mercy’ said No to mothers longing for their children and children longing for their mothers. Over and over again.

    That is evil!

  • #9

    Turns out the great religions aren’t so great after all.

    And of course, the defense will be that they were simply doing it wrong.

  • #10

    Yeah – but that defense doesn’t work – because one of their last and most treasured justifications for the whole mess is that religion makes people better. Well if that were true the sisters of ‘Mercy’ would have been incapable of acting with such settled merciless malevolent cruelty for decades upon decades. The sisters of ‘Mercy’ are enough to falsify the whole idea.

  • #11

    I read these stories with a sense of horror, and don’t know what to say. Just the sheer horror of what Marie-Therese describes, with so many terrible variations. (I cannot imaging going through all that and still managing to create something strong and decent, as she so obviously is.) The mind starts to implode after awhile. Everyday, there are more and more stories of the horror of religion and what it does to people. Do religious people simply not notice? Do they not see why someone like Dawkins can be so angry – and he never sounds angry when he appears on TV – he is so thoughtful and softspoken – and the futility of religion, and why it is so terrible to induct children into it, in whatever form? Do they not see where that anger comes from? How can they not? It fills me with shame to have spent most of a lifetime tied up in it.

  • #12

    Marie -Therese O’ Loughlin

    Suffering, suffering and more suffering is all that ever mattered to the religious. The more one suffered pain in the manner of the crucified Christ the more nearer one was to God the Father in Heaven. The notorious Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers seemed to have been the most cruellest of all the religious put together. Young children, of the same sex, in their care, were deprived of innocently holding hands with each other – as this act was considered “dirty”. They would be called love-birds and were frowned upon. You must take into account that the very same children had no adults to comfort them either. They not only constantly deprived some children of visitation rights from their parents – but also beat others when they mournfully cried the death loss of their other siblings – who accidentally died whilst in their care in another institution. Emotions of any normal descriptions were not entertained.

    “It’s moving to hang around airports and watch the reunions. Reunions are a good thing.”

    OB: I find reunions very disturbing- as they trigger off emotions that I cannot handle at all. its a legacy of the past.

    Eric, Dawkins was in Dublin last week promoting his new book. but the presenter of the show that he appeared on – being Catholic, did not seize the opportunity, that a secularist might have had, to talk to him in depth. It was such a pity.

  • #13

    Marie-Therese, the actions of the Sisters of Mercy go beyond mere indifference to the suffering of the twins and the other children placed in their ‘care’. To deliberately withold what they knew from them when adults can have no justification, and amounts to outright sadism. That fits with the theory that suffering is good for the soul, and the Sister probably had no trouble justifying it to themselves in those terms.

    ‘Wicked’ is far too modest a word to use in this context. The word is ‘evil’, and in its own terms, the whole system was Satanic.

    For a proselytising religion, internal discipline and hierarchical control become paramount. Power corrupts, but conversely the corrupted seek power. It can be more easily gained over children than over adults, and far more easily abused. It is no coincidence that the churches have faced their greatest crises lately over the behaviour of their priests and nuns towards children.

  • #14

    The only positive thing from this evil saga is that these holy orders are pretty much on their way out. They have very few new people joining and the older ones are dying off. Even in the early 70s when I began school in a small town in Ireland the nuns there were mostly elderly (and yes, scary and sadistic and not inclined to ‘spare the rod’ – or in the case of myself and the other 4 year olds in my class, ‘spare the steel tipped ruler’.)

  • #15

    You hear time and again of the brutality dished out by the likes of the Christian Brothers, but no one ever goes in and shuts the bastards down. Can you imagine the outcry if this sort of casual sadism emerged in a state school?

    Religious education is child abuse.

  • #16

    Marie-Therese O’ Loughlin

    Ian, a lot of victims/survivors from SOKA UK protested outside Dublin’s Mansion House earlier on in the year, to highlight concerns about the €400 million that the Christian Brothers were planning on shifting to trust funds. See:

    Do note all the influential high profile educated people they have protecting them. Directors of the type mentioned below in the article are also of the type who have never supported victims/survivors of institutional abuse. They all drink out of the same religious soup bowl. They make their living out of the religious and there is too much of a price to pay for them to speak out on injustices going on under their own noses.

    Like with some Irish celebrities – they would rather been seen helping causes in far off-flung places as they will become even bigger in their celebrity status with all the advertisement coverage.

    There is a new programme coming up on RTE this Sunday. It is called, “Does God Hate”?!

    The CB’s plan on shutting themselves down -that is after they have shifted all their assets.

    The Florida misappropriation case of millions of dollars dollars is presently on the box. Fancy spending $300,000 dollars on gold coins and the parishioners, with the same token gathering funds to bail the culprits out of jail!


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