U.N report puts pressure on Catholic orders in Ireland over laundries

Wed Feb 5, 2014 11:08am EST
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By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Advocacy groups for women forced to work at the Catholic Church's notorious Magdalene laundries in Ireland backed calls from the United Nations for religious orders to pay compensation and face prosecution for decades of abuse.

In an unprecedented report on Wednesday, the U.N. demanded that the Vatican "immediately remove" all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers. It also urged the Holy See to conduct an investigation into the laundries.

Women, many unmarried mothers, sent to the laundries were made wash items for business, hospitals and state bodies in slave-like conditions, and were often subject to cruel and degrading treatment as well as physical and sexual abuse, the report by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said.

"The state has allowed the perpetrators of these crimes to get away without taking responsibility," said Steven O' Riordan, director of Magdalene Survivors Together. "The religious orders are still not being held accountable, they have never apologized directly for their part in running the laundries."

The authority of the church in Ireland has been rocked by investigations into clerical sex abuse and state-abetted cover-ups at Catholic-run schools and institutions, labeled places of fear and neglect in a 2009 official report.

The Irish government last year agreed to pay up 58 million euros ($78 million) to hundreds of Magdalene laundry workers after an official report found that a quarter of them were sent there by the Irish state. Prime Minister Enda Kenny apologized for what he described as a "national shame".

The religious orders responsible for the laundries, which were run by Catholic nuns and were depicted in the award-winning film "The Magdalene Sisters", did not contribute to the compensation scheme.