Guest Commentary
Film Depicts How Abuse Can Dehumanize

By Peg Clark
The Daily News
September 14, 2003

"The Magdalene Sisters," a film which was awarded Best Picture at the Venice Film Festival and given "two thumbs up" by critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, illustrates not only clerical sexual abuse, but many other forms of oppression and discrimination. The film relates the true stories of three young girls who were incarcerated in the Magdalene Asylums in Ireland by their families and with the assistance of the local parish priest because they had a child out of wedlock, were judged too sensual, too flirtatious, or even too attractive.

The Magdalene Asylums were laundries founded in the mid-19th century; the last Magdalene Asylum closed in 1996. It is said that 30,000 girls and women were incarcerated there. They labored unpaid 364 days a year. The money earned was given to the church.

The introduction of the electric washer and dryer eventually put laundries out of business.

When the Magdalene Sisters' contribution to the church was no longer significant, the asylums were closed.

Abuse can take many forms: slavery, imprisonment, torture, impoverishment, exclusion, humiliation but one would never expect to see all of these abuses present in a single situation. All of these and more did exist in these Irish convent laundries.

This unfathomable story is true.

Silence, often enforced in punishment, was the rule in a Magdalene Asylum. An infraction of the silence by a "Maggie" was met with barbarous corporal punishments. These punishments were doled out by nuns who believed they were doing God's work in saving the girls' souls while beating the hell out of them.

Has there ever been a tyrant so tenacious as the one who knows what is good for you?

The mentality of the nuns who also were incarcerated in these asylums is surreal. The sexual tension that exists between these mutually cloistered women is primitive and explosive.

"The Magdalene Sisters" is an example of Justice Brandeis' famous quote: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

The film is brave; hats off to Peter Mullan for his presentation of this horrible but true situation. The film is enlightening on the breadth and depth of abuse a subject about which we know so little.

Do we have a responsibility to think for those who cannot think, nor protect, themselves? Do we have a responsibility to erase all silence, which is an underlying cause of continued abuse?

Truth is a disinfectant. See "The Magdalene Sisters." Learn, and then help end dehumanization in all its forms.

Voice of the Faithful of Southwest Florida is a lay organization founded in 2002 in Naples as a local response to the national Catholic sexual-abuse crisis. The primary goal of the group is to support the victims of clerical sexual abuse.

In sexual abuse a victim is denied his or her full humanity; this is dehumanization. In dehumanization, paradoxically, the oppressor too becomes less human in the denial.

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