Church should take Bethany lead

Please allow me to respond to Janet Maxwell, Church of Ireland Head of Communications (Letters, Jan 10). She wrote to you on the Protestant evangelical Bethany Home (that closed in 1972), in response to a column by Victoria White and a subsequent Examiner editorial.

Janet Maxwell states that the Church “has not ignored the issues raised by former residents”. But it has avoided doing very much about them. She refers to letters, two it appears, sent to ministers, and to two appeals for funds, over the course of three years.

I make two observations. First, the Church did not think to copy its two letters to former Bethany residents. We do not know what was in them. Second, the amount so far raised by the Church is, as far as I am aware, nothing. Funding is needed for a memorial to the 219 dead Bethany children in unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetery. It might boost interest if senior clergy appeared at Mount Jerome Cemetery to express their sorrow in some suitable manner. Again, we issue the invitation.

Minutes of the Bethany Home Managing Committee reveal requests for funds from Church of Ireland clergy when they referred unmarried pregnant women to the home. Janet Maxwell asserts that the Church of Ireland “did not have governance of the Home”. Instead of the Church of Ireland asking itself “who is my neighbour” it would rather split hairs and avoid its Christian responsibility. Perhaps it should give the dreadful tragedy of Bethany some “prayerful consideration and discuss it between bishops, clergy and laity”. On 10 January 2013 the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin, and Mr Samuel Harper, Lay Honorary Secretary of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland (whose words I cite), contributed moral guidance to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children.

For the record, Church of Ireland clergy shared in Bethany Home governance by sitting on the home’s Managing Committee. One common denominator appears to have been membership of, or support for, the Church of Ireland’s Irish Church Missions to the Roman Catholics.

Bethany Home was a Protestant religious institution. It was, states Kurt Bowen’s standard academic history of Anglicanism in the Republic of Ireland, ‘the major facility for Protestant women in need of institutional care’. The Church of Ireland is the biggest and the oldest Protestant denomination. It should give a better lead.

Derek Leinster

Chairperson

Bethany Survivors

Rugby

Warwickshire

England

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