51 years ago, a woman called Eileen made the happy and long anticipated drive to the village of Castlepollard in Co. Westmeath. Accompanied by her husband and son, they drove up the long avenue, passed an industrial style building on the left and up to the stately home with its pillared entrance where the owners of site lived, the Nuns.
‘I’m here for my new baby’ Eileen had said proudly to the expressionless nun who had answered the heavy wooden door to her. After she had told her her name, she was told to ‘wait here’, and the door was subsequently closed in her face. Some fifteen to twenty minutes later the nun return holding a little sleeping person, wrapped in a blue blanket. Hugely surprised by this, Eileen asked the nun what the babies name was, and as yet another blow to what should have been a wonderful moment in her life, the nun replied, ‘none, you’ll have to name her’.
And that was that.
Fourty seven years later I went to the exact same address in Castlepollard, no longer in the ownership of the church but the state (the HSE), drove past the same industrial building on the left, and up to the same stately home, now with its heavy wooden door wide open to all .
I explained to the lady inside why I was there, and after a very warm conversation she asked if I wanted to see the buildings chapel, to which I agreed.
We walked along the wooden clad corridor to the end of the building whereupon the lady opened the door to the chapel and let me inside. ‘I’ll leave you for a while if you like’ she had kindly offered, an offer I accepted.
After walking around the chapel for a few minutes I stopped at the beautiful baptismal font, and suddenly out of the blue, I was in floods of tears.
The lady had told me how things had worked in Castlepollard in the days of the nuns. She had explained the purpose of the industrial style building I had passed on my way in, and just thinking about this again is what brought on the tears.
The building had three floors in it. The new arrivals were on the top floor, and as the time for their babies to be either sold to wealthy Irish and foreign people, or to simply be given to kind loving people who simply wanted to give these babies a loving home, they were moved down to the second floor, and eventually to the ground floor where sometimes their mothers got to say goodbye to them, and sometimes they didn’t.
Through a very circuitous route a couple of years previously, I managed to locate my birth mother. A lady by the name of Bridget. Heartbreakingly, when first approached about me, she denied every having me, but after a while, when the evidence was put to her, she crumbled and cried. She said that she had never told anyone of my existence, that she could never tell anyone of my existence, and that for these reasons, she wouldn’t be able to meet or talk with me.
I totally got this. I did. But I asked that she be told that she did a good thing, that I’m happy and that I have four fabulous kids.
But now, weeks away from your visit, when as a nation we are expecting you to say something about this disgustingly shameful past of our small county, where people are looking for apologies for the acts of people who are mostly now deceased, I just wonder what good an apology from you is to the thousands of victims of institution of the Catholic Church.
I’m sorry we made you feel shame.
I’m sorry your babies were called bastards.
I’m sorry we enslaved you in workhouses.
I’m sorry we sold your babies to the wealthy and didn’t use this money to look after you better.
I’m sorry that our actions resulted in something similar to a ‘baby business’, earning us possibly millions of pounds.
I’m sorry our pastors brainwashed our congregations so much that they were ashamed of you.
I’m sorry we got richer and richer from theses actions, the laundries, the collection plates (10% of a salary was the norm), and I’m sorry we lived like lords whilst the poor, afflicted and ostrasized were… were not even bothered with.
Days away from your all expenses paid trip (circa 30 million euro) to Ireland of I am absolutely baffled at how short of a memory the people of this country is.
Half a million of us alone in Dublin don’t seem to care that you, the leader of an institution with over 4 billion euro of its own, isn’t digging into your massive resources to fund this publicity trip, and have raced to pick up tickets for this gig.
Half a million of us have forgotten about the clerical abuse, the baby trafficking, the systemic demoralization and shaming of women for doing something as natural as eating and breathing. They have forgotten about the deception, the churches demands and acceptance of money from those who could least afford it whilst living like kings themselves, dining with the wealthy, and becoming beneficeries of thousands of wills, adding to their already massive wealth. Have they forgotten about the divide the behavior and teachings of this church caused in our land, and most importantly, have the WOMEN attending this event, have they absolutely no soul at all.
Rather than apologizing for what’s happened in the past, cause lets face it, what good is that, why are you, as a positive response to your institutions previous existence here of raping our society and dividing our people and covering up in the most unspeakable manner the actions of your members, why don’t you, Pope Francis, offer to fund counseling to the thousands and thousands of people who have been affected by the churches actions.
We don’t need meaningless apologies, explanations might be interesting, but apologies – no. We need for you to help repair the damage done to the victims, and this is best done by counseling which can then hopefully help them to learn to forgive – both themselves and your church.
Why doesn’t you, Pope Francis and your expensively clothed colleagues in the richest institution in the world, dig into you 4. whatever billion euro, and help these people to live out the rest of their days no longer feeling the shame, devastation, regret or pain they’ve lived with all these years. Help them to forgive (but not forget) and live out their days with peace of mind.
Bridget has a fifty one year old secret, me. And whatever way the church and its members treated her, they have kept her their prisioner for all those years.
Money is the route of all evil, and without a doubt, power corrupts, and absolute power, which the Catholic Church had over the Irish people for so long, corrupts absolutely.
Bridget, and thousands like her deserve their freedom now.
Why do half a million people in this country still not seem to care about them?
This post originally appeared on Helen McNamara’s Facebook page