In the last article we saw how Rome hijacked the movie Life is Beautiful for her own ends.
However Rome can occasionally find the cinema pointing a disconcerting finger at herself and she is then not slow to cry foul when that happens. For instance, Ralph Hochhuth’s play was based on fact when it showed Pius XII playing the stock market while a conscience stricken SS officer, risking all in desertion, desperately seeks an audience to convince Pius that Hitler is gassing Jews in Eastern Europe. Rome fought the film version of Hochhuth’s play tooth and nail, including the posters advertising it, and she did so from the moment that it was first mooted.
Venice Film Festival
But this years Venice film festival seems to have caught the Vatican off its guard.
Rome is heavily involved in the festival in order to exploit any film that might be of use to her. But Venice has long rebelled against papal domination. Today it is a centre Lega Nord, the northern Italian separatist movement which seeks to declare an independent state of Padania. There was therefore enmity between Rome and Venice long before Vatican anger was aroused at the recent festival.
So it was embarrassing for Rome’s representatives seated in Northern League territory, to see the prestigious Golden Lion best film award going to a movie which exposes her own wickedness and cruelty. After all, the Golden Lion was the symbol of glorious Venice from her early days as an independent republic. The film apparently caught Rome unawares and her remarks were exceptionally bitter, goaded as she was by rapturous cheers from the audience, "every time one of the protagonists attempted to escape or rebelled against the nuns".
Andrea Piersanti of the Italian Catholic Commission of Performing Arts observed: "It is a strange signal on the part of the first festival run by the centre right, "to have given such a famed prize, to a film so brazenly anti-clerical".
Then he insulted the distinguished jury consisting of senior glitterati. The Jury was of international composition and aloof from the Northern League controversy. Piersanti accused the jury of being more, "influenced by the newspapers than the content of the film". After the showing, Fr Gianni Bager Bozzo, Roman Catholic priest, political commentator and media guru of the centre right, said that those, "who have rewarded the film have only done so for its anti-Catholic content".
Then the Jesuit controlled Vatican radio struck with the Jesuits age old cry of anti-Catholic conspiracy. "A coalition of so called critics … have put their act together to hype up a clearly false movie." The Jesuits printing arm, L’Ossevatore Romano, with its international readership, quickly carried these denunciations around the world. The shocked Vatican officially described the film as, "an angry and rancorous provocation".
The Magdalene Sisters
The film which won Scottish director Peter Mullen the Golden Lion at Venice Lido in early September was entitled the Magdalene Sisters. Mary Magdalene has always been equated with sexual immorality and shame in a most unhealthy way in Roman Catholic history and art. After all, Rome runs on the energy of repressed sexual desire.
This film deals with the detention of young women, usually single mother-to-be, in the Irish Republic during the 1960’s. The stigma which attached to such women made them social outcasts. Rome would claim that their detention in the Convent laundries saved them from a worse fate, and that they were so numerous that they had to be put to work to finance their keep.
Laundry work was something all the detainees could undertake regardless of academic ability. Moreover in the hardships of making dirty objects white again the women were considered to be doing penance for their sins and rectifying faults in their personalities.
A story on the same theme was dramatised as a play on BBC1 last March and brought a flurry of UK publicity with it. Sinners was written by Lizzie Mickery, directed by Aisling Walsh and set in Ireland in 1963. "Young unmarried Anne-Marie’s family sends her to a ‘Magdalene laundry’ to hide her away when they learn she is pregnant. The laundry is run by nuns who maintain a very strict and cruel discipline. Upon giving birth, the babies are given away for adoption, but the mothers are still not permitted to leave unless a family member signs for them – if they try and escape they are hunted down and dragged back. Anne-Marie escapes and before she is recaptured she meets a local widower who agrees to marry her".
Unfortunately the dramatic impact of the ongoing incarceration of Anne-Marie was defused by inserting the main evening news, sport and weather in the middle of the production. Is this Rome at work within the BBC?
Mullen stood firm at a subsequent press conference. One wonders if he knew who he was opposing. He caused a furore in Italy when he likened the activities of some of the nuns to those of ‘Taliban militants’! "To say my movie is a scandal is absurd. I didn’t create the Magdalene Asylums, they created them. I just wanted to highlight one of the great injustices of the second of the half 20th century. The Catholic church should face up to cruelty dealt out by nuns in the asylums."
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, "I’m disappointed at the announcement that they have made that it is all lies, that it never happened … that’s something I’m very, very surprised at … I really thought they would have at least the courage to own up to the fact that these things did go on. I’m not a good enough dramatist to make this stuff up".
Mullen is not a Dickens inspired to take up his pen by Victorian history. These are events which have taken place in the lifetime of many of us. Mullen was clearly inspired by a sense of having been let down by the Church of Rome. It was reported that he wanted to address the image of Ireland with which he was inculcated as a Scottish Roman Catholic boy. He told reporters at the Venice film festival, "When you come across a story like that, it’s so the opposite of what I was led to believe. It’s so unlike the Ireland I was brought up to believe in, Ireland the promised land". As far as the present writer knows, this subject still awaits a Protestant academic study.
Last Magdalene laundry
The last Magdalene laundry closed in 1996. (See http;//www.irish-times.com/) The Irish Times of Wednesday, September 25, 1996, reported, "A controversial chapter of Dublin life will end next month with the closure of what’s believed to be the last of the capital’s convent laundries, that belonging to the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity in Sean Mac Dermott Street. At the height of its productivity 150 women worked in this laundry. Today 40 women are in residence at the convent, the eldest of them 79, the youngest in her 40s, all of whom will remain living there after the laundry closes on October 25th.
"Approximately 40 per cent of the women who came herein the past were single women who became pregnant and were rejected by their families, says the Reverend Mother, Sister Lucy Bruton. "What we tried to do … was to provide money and protection for women in need. Of course we failed, we made mistakes…".
Gloucester Street Laundry
"For 30 years, the Sisters have avoided the term Magdalene Laundry. The building, known to generations of Dubliners as the Gloucester Street laundry, is to be sold – several parties are interested, and the nuns would like it to be use for some social service. First impressions of laundry building are of austerity - of a large, grim interior with high ceilings. The pounding, steam driven machinery adds to the Victorian atmosphere. These days many of the women there are old and frail, their duties now described as occupational therapy. The laundry does the washing for nearby Mountjoy Prison and the prisoners’ clothing is collected once a day …".
The report continued, "Of the women there, nine have no know relatives. The relatives of some other women residents, though known, rarely if ever come to see them. Sister Lucy says she regularly telephones the families but they still won’t come to take the women out. A few years ago one woman was not even told by relatives when her mother died, Sister Lucy says. The family delayed telling her because they didn’t want her at the funeral.
133 bodies disinterred
The decision in 1993 by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity to sell off a graveyard in Drumcondra to pay debts put the spotlight firmly on this forgotten aspect of Irish life; the convent laundries. The bodies of 133 women who had worked in the High Park convent laundry were disinterred, cremated and reburied in Glasnevin cemetery …"
Sister Lucy, protecting Rome, insisted, "Finding jobs for the women was an IQ of 48, another has behavioural difficulties … In the laundry’s early years there was no State support. In later years the women received an old age pension. Half the pension goes to the convent for board and lodgings…"
HYPERLINK http://www.netreach.net/~steed/mag_media.html is an informative site. For readers with Real Player, a thoroughly researched real life documentary follows the experiences of a few of the "tens of thousands" of Magdalene abductees. Also a rare Glasgow university pamphlet is displayed, the fifth annual report by the Directors of the Glasgow Magdalene Institution. "Dating from December 1864 … the report … was Printed at the Reformatory Institution, Duke Street 1865".
The site states "The original Glasgow Magdalene Asylum was set up in 1812 in response to increasing worries regarding prostitution, venereal diseases and the moral health of the country. For the powers that be the obvious way to combat these ills was to incarcerate women, not in a punitive institution but in a ‘voluntary’ institution such as the Magdalene Asylum. As the biblical reference in the name suggests the institute was based on the premise that these women could be redeemed and ‘saved’ from their life of immorality and possible early death. The women in the asylum were generally termed as prostitutes; however, it should be noted that this term was used in a very loose manner encompassing not only women who sold sex for money but also single mothers, socialists, mill girls and girls dressed ‘immorally’.
The site stresses how the Institution changed its character over the years from an asylum to accommodate prostitutes with syphilis to simply shutting away girls to accommodate the mores of Rome. Disturbingly we are also told, "Notably, until late 1958 ‘wayward girls’ were being placed in the Magdalene Institute in its final incarnation in Maryhill. Women were placed here by parents or probation officers and were subject to moral and general education and industrial training. In September 1958 the Glasgow Herald reported women escaping from the Institute, alleging ill treatment.
The matter was looked into by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the institution was closed shortly after."
But even more disturbingly, through modern technology the voice of the inductees still rings in the author’s ears as he closes the computer: "What was the authority under which you are being held?"
"THE CHURCH. What other authority was there? I would have rather been down at the women’s jail. At least I would have got a sentence and I would have know when I was leaving…"