Having Protectors Matters

Jacobin Magazine, the online Marxist publication (and fantastically unapologetic about it!) has a fascinating and heartbreaking piece on the misery inflicted on women, children, and poor families by the Irish state’s close cooperation with the Catholic Church:

By 1924, there were more children in industrial schools in the Irish Free State than there were in all of the industrial schools in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined. The system was abolished in England in 1933, but in Ireland, particularly following the suppression of the 1935 Carrigan Report, the reformatory system continued for decades.

The Carrigan committee was tasked with investigating the “moral state” of the country, but on viewing the committee’s findings the Department of Justice decided to conceal the report. According to an internal memo, the report “was unbalanced to be too severe on men, while overlooking the shortcomings of women in these matters, and the, at times, highly coloured imaginations of children.”

But as the Carrigan committee revealed, abuse was rampant in Irish institutions, and was strongly determined by class and status. Jim Beresford, a former resident of the Daingean Industrial School, put it this way: “What eventually stopped them abusing me was that I had parents, and I was articulate. Most of the other children were inarticulate and illiterate because they had spent their whole life in the institution.” [Emphasis mine — CHF] Beresford managed to escape and his sister immediately put him on the boat to England where he remained, a fugitive at fifteen years old.

Many others were less fortunate. In 1939, twin girls born to a single mother in Cork were placed in Clonakility Industrial School. One of the girls, Annie, remembers beatings, bed-wetting, and humiliation. With regard to her education she states: “The classroom was a place of punishment. It was where we watched people being sadistically beaten. If we were ambitious to study, they did not like that.”

No doubt the desire of the church to control and moralize about all human behavior, from that of single women to poor families, contributed to this, though Jacobin makes no case whatsoever in this piece for the contributions of Catholic Social Teaching to the miserable and inhuman conditions that Ireland’s poorest and most vulnerable people found themselves subject to in the six or seven decades following Irish independence.

Nor do I share Jacobin’s faith in the secular state (whether rightly guided by revolutionary socialist theory and ideals or not) to do any of this right either. The quote I highlighted is a reality, sadly, of what it means to be subject to institutions. (And socialism of any flavor will only make that worse.) Many of the kids I do ministry with are foster kids, have been in and through the system (which is definitely not church run in this country), and foster kids by definition have no one to fight for them, no one to advocate or agitate for them. It’s why they have contacted me. Because there is no one else to listen.

They are the perfect victims. And they remain perfect victims whether they face and impersonal church or an impersonal state.

The Torah is harsh in its teaching to Israel on how those who have no protectors, no one to fight back if they are wronged — strangers, wanderers, widows, and orphans — should be treated. And what will happen to Israel if they fail to heed the words of their Lord:

21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” (Exodus 22:21–24 ESV)

And if this wasn’t enough, Moses commanded Israel to remember the teaching as they prepared to cross the Jordan and take possession of the promised land:

“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. ’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.” (Deuteronomy 27:19 ESV)

I won’t call down curses upon Ireland, but the Irish church, that’s another matter. A church that would cooperate so closely to immiserate and abuse so many deserves to fall by the sword, burnt to the ground, left fatherless itself, cast into exile, its good and pleasant land left empty and desolate.

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