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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Irish president apologises to women sent to Magdalene laundries

President Michael D. Higgins of Ireland described the treatment of women and children in state-controlled institutions managed by the Catholic Church as a “deep stain on Ireland’s past.”

During an historic ceremony hosted by Higgins and his wife Sabina on 5th June to honour former residents of Magdalene laundries, the president said that “all of you and all the other women who cannot be with us today were failed by these institutions, the experience of which you share, and the religious orders that ran them.”

“You were profoundly failed by the state which, in its relationship to these institutions, should have had your welfare at its core. You were failed by governments that knowingly relied on the existence and practices of these institutions rather than addressing your particular needs in other, more sympathetic ways,” he said.

Higgins apologised to the women, whom he called “survivors of the Magdalene regime.”

Magdalene laundries, run by religious sisters, were common in Great Britain and Ireland in the 20th century. They were so named as a reference to Mary Magdalene’s tears washing Jesus’ feet.

The women sent to work in the laundries, the last of which closed in 1996, and to live in the convents attached to them were given the work of washing laundry as a penance for sins, real and imagined. Some of the young women were sent by parents or civil authorities for reasons that included having children out of wedlock, being seen as sexually promiscuous, or being perceived as being in moral danger.

Picture: President Michael D. Higgins of Ireland delivers his address during the State of the Union conference in Florence, Italy, on 10th May. During a 5th June ceremony in Dublin, Higgins honoured and apologised to women who once laboured in the country’s Magdalene laundries that were run by religious orders. (CNS photo/Claudio Giovannini, EPA).