Religious orders rebuffed appeal for clerical abuse redress payout

A religious order that ran two Magdalene Laundries told the Government that its decision not to contribute any money to the redress scheme for survivors was based on the findings of the McAleese Report.

Magdalene Laundries

It comes as Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged the Catholic Church to “measure up” and “get on with it” in relation to compensation it owes to abuse survivors.

A report from the Comptroller and Auditor General showed 18 religious orders have contributed to just 13% of the €1.5bn fund for victims of institutional abuse.

To date, the four orders that ran Magdalene Laundries — the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Sisters of Charity — have refused to contribute any money to the redress scheme set up in 2013 to compensate women.

The McAleese committee had no remit to investigate allegations of torture or other criminal offences that occurred in the laundries. 

However, the Government in its August 2013 letter to the UN Committee against Torture said that, based on the McAleese committee’s interviewing of 118 ex-residents, “no factual evidence to support allegations of systematic torture or ill-treatment of a criminal nature in these institutions was found”.

Documents released under Freedom of Information show the Government wrote to the orders in February 2013 asking them to formally contribute to the redress fund. It wrote again in January 2014. 

All four orders stated they would not contribute any money to the scheme.

Regional leader of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity Sr Sheila Murphy responded on three occasions to then justice minister Alan Shatter stating its decision not to contribute was made after examining the findings of the McAleese Report.

“I note that you are disappointed with the decision of this congregating [sic] regarding the ‘Magdalen Scheme’ and the Government’s view that we, as a congregation have ‘moral obligation to make a reasonable contribution’,” she wrote.

“The decision not to contribute to the State Scheme was arrived at after consideration of the findings of the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries, known as the McAleese Report, and careful reflection of our current and ongoing responsibilities to those residents who remain in our care.”

In a letter to the Department of Justice in June 2013, provincial leader of the Good Shepherd Sisters Sr Bernadette McNally said the order’s finances meant it could not contribute.

“The Good Shepherd Sisters submitted a detailed account of their finances to the Department of Education in September 2009. We indicated that on the basis of the facts presented we were not in a position to make further contributions.

“Unfortunately, we are still not in a position to make contributions to any Redress Scheme and our financial circumstances are unlikely to improve in the future.”

The Good Shepherd Sisters ran laundries in Limerick, Cork, Waterford, and New Ross. It made €3.4m by selling sites and houses between 1999 and 2009. 

In May 2009, it still had €13.2m in land, while it also had €16.8m worth of financial assets.

The Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Mercy told the Government in August 2013 its decision not to contribute was “carefully considered” and that “both the Minister and Government will have been well aware of our intent in advance of the announcement of the Scheme”.

“The experience of our Congregation in seeking to make and just contributions towards other State Schemes has convinced us of the incompatibility of such Schemes with our work as a Congregation,” she wrote. 

“Because of this, and for other reasons, we will not alter our decision not to contribute financially to the Scheme.”

The Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Charity, Sr Mary Christian, responded multiple times to the Government informing it that the order would not contribute any money for Magdalene survivors. 

Its final response in February 2014 simply stated: “I refer to my letter addressed to Minister Shatter dated 25 June 2013. I enclose a further copy of that for easy reference. The position of the Sisters of Charity is as stated in that letter.”

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