Poem Who’s That Pretty Girl In White? and Image Copyright To Anne Frandi-Coory
– All Rights Reserved 26 May 2013
Read my poem *Who’s That Pretty Girl In White?*
Poem Who’s That Pretty Girl In White? and Image Copyright To Anne Frandi-Coory
– All Rights Reserved 26 May 2013
Read my poem *Who’s That Pretty Girl In White?*
-Anne Frandi-Coory 9 September 2011
The book ‘Banished Babies’ by Mike Milotte, is about babies born in Ireland to unmarried mothers. But we now know, banished babies were also born to illegitimate mothers in New Zealand, Australia, America and England. More countries where this practise took place may yet come to light. Australian Banished Babies want an apology. You might say “But this happened last Century”. The thing is, the wounds left in these heartbreaking cases, never heal.
‘Banished Babies’ were those babies taken from their unmarried mothers at birth. I believe that the word ‘taken’ in this instance is a misnomer. It should read ‘ripped’, because that’s how it felt to the young mothers. I know this personally from my own mother’s case. This ‘baby snatching’ as others call it, was not for altruistic purposes; rather it was following Catholic dogma issued by the Vatican’s Office of the Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly Office of the Holy Inquisition). It was certainly not for the welfare of the infants, or their mothers. No. It was to remove these babies from their mothers who were seen by the Catholic Church as sinners who had to be punished. In the nuns’ minds, indoctrinated by the Church, the babies themselves were being saved from the clutches of satan and were ‘sold’, mostly to wealthy American couples, who, it was stipulated, had to be of the Catholic Faith. It was strictly enforced by the Church, that neither mother or infant would ever be able to trace each other, and this caused even more heartbreak decades later. (See my post about Philomena Lee). Large sums of money were exchanged for the privilege of ‘buying a newborn’, donation being the euphemism used. Ironic, isn’t it? So much of that wealth the Church received, is now being paid out to even more victims of the Catholic Church; in the form of compensation to thousands of families whose children were sexually abused by paedophile priests.
Between the end of WWII and 1965 more than 2,200 Irish infants were adopted out of the country, mostly by hopeful parents in the U.S. All the adoptive parents were, by mandate of the church in Ireland, Catholic. Until the late 1990’s and the work of Irish journalist Michael Milotte this was a fact known to few in Ireland and fewer in the U.S. In Ireland Milotte’s work, emphasising both the emotional and physical brutalisation of the birth mothers and the country’s loss of vital human capital, led to a great furor.
In 2001, the Washington Post reported:
Milotte, a senior reporter for the Irish television network RTE, says life was particularly hard for the mothers in these convents, which were largely self-sustaining thanks to the women’s labour but also received public funding. In some cases, he says, the priests and nuns received money from the adoptive parents, who paid “confinement and medical costs” associated with their child’s birth.
“Where did the money go?” he wonders. “It sustained the people who ran the institutions in a manner they wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.” But money likely wasn’t the primary motivator, he says. Rather, there was a demand for children, and many of the nuns believed they were doing God’s work by sending some of Ireland‘s social outcasts to a better life in the land of opportunity.
“They thought they were doing good,” says Milotte in a phone interview from Dublin. “The fact that people might have rights didn’t enter into their thinking. They thought they knew best. If, in doing the best thing, there was an opportunity to make money, that was all the better.” In those postwar days, it was not uncommon for Irish children to be adopted by U.S. military and government employees living abroad, Milotte says.
The birth mothers of these children spent their pregnancies and post-natal, pre-adoption lives in varioushomes, often convents, for girls and women who were seen by the conservative Catholic culture as shame-worthy moral degenerates. The horrific conditions that these women underwent was recently dramatized in the movie the Magdelene Sisters.
Milotte spoke with NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling upon release of his book Banished Babies in May of 1998:
Many of these women were seen as the next thing to prostitutes, and were very often told that when their identities became known. Even when girls got pregnant, very often they didn’t get married even if — because there was the stigma attached to having had sex before marriage. So even where a relationship endured, the child would be given up for adoption. And it was all done in secret.
I am one of those kids given up for adoption. It was in that interview in May of 1998, two days after I returned to Chicago following my mother’s funeral, that I learned of the controversy. I have always known that I was adopted, that I was a ‘true Irishman’, and I had always been proud and honored by the distinction. In the days immediately following my mom’s death I told my Dad that I had never for a second doubted who my ‘real’ parents were, that he and my mom were the only ones who can lay claim to me. I feel no different today.
None-the-less, as the NPR story continued I found myself getting information that I’m sure even they didn’t have.
ZWERDLING: Here’s one of the most curious aspects of this story.It’s hard enough for most women to give up a baby for adoption during the first few hours or weeks of its life. But church officials forced the young mothers to stay in their convents and raise their own infants for at least one year or more before adoptive families could come and get them.Reporter Mike Milotte says he’s turned up cases where young women changed their minds after their babies were born and tried to leave the convents. (This also happened to my mother in New Zealand). But the nuns sent guards to capture the women and bring them back.For her part, Mary O’Connor says, she knew she’d have to give her baby away. She felt she literally had no choice. But by the time the nuns came to take her son, she’d been raising him for 17 months. Then one evening, O’Connor says, a nun told her, “Get him ready. We’re giving him away in the morning.”
O’CONNOR: So she just carried it over to the convent. There was two parts, like there was a hospital part where the children were kept and then there was the convent part. And the child was brought over to the convent part. And there was three steps up. You went in the side door and there were three steps up. And they went to the top of the steps and they said, “Just say goodbye now. That’s it.”
-Anne Frandi-Coory 25 July 2011
For more about my mother’s lost children & the heartlessness of the Catholic Church:
The Abbess was of noble blood
But early took the veil and hood
Ere upon life she cast a look
Or knew the world that she forsook
Fair too she was, and kind had been
As she was fair, but ne’er had seen
For her a timid lover sigh
Nor knew the influence of her eye
Love, to her ear, was but a name
Combined with vanity and shame
Her hopes, her fears, her joys, were all
Bounded within the cloister wall:
The deadliest sin her mind could reach
Was of monastic rule the breach;
And her ambition’s highest aim
To emulate St Hilda’s fame
For this she gave her ample dower,
To raise the convent’s eastern tower;
For this, with carving rare and quaint,
She decked the chapel of the saint,
And gave the relic-shrine of cost,
With ivories and gems embost.
The poor her convent’s bounty blest,
The pilgrim in its halls found rest.
Black was her garb, her rigid rule
Reformed on Benedictine school;
Her cheek was pale, her form was spare;
Vigils, and penitence austere,
Had early quenched the life of youth,
But gentle was the dame in Sooth
From: Sir Walter Scott, ‘Marmion’, The Immolation of Constance De Beverley
My mother was a defeated nun and a defeated mother. She entered a convent to escape the inescapable: LIFE. (See Previous Post: My Mother Was A Catholic Nun.
For hundreds of years, young women and girls have been entering convents for various reasons. Fathers and other patriarchs sent unmarriageable or unmanageable daughters into a cloistered life. Daughters whose mothers had died were also sentenced to life imprisonment, with or without their consent.
Even Galileo, that illustrious 17th Century scientist, and devout Catholic, confined his eldest daughter from the age of thirteen (1616) to San Matteo convent in Arcetri. His daughter, Virgina was deemed unmarriageable because her father had never married her mother, the beautiful Marina Gamba of Venice. Virginia (Sister Maria Celeste) lived out her life in poverty and seclusion in the convent (Order of St Clare) , as did her younger sister, Livia. Unlike Virginia, very little is heard from, or about, the “silent and strange” Livia. Virginia lost all her teeth by age 27 because of her lack of a nutritious diet. It is worth reading ‘Galileo’s Daughter’ by Dava Sobel, a gifted author, for more on these remarkable lives. We know so much about Galileo and Virginia because of the correspondence between the two. Ms Sobel also covers the horror of Galileo’s life and his banishment to house arrest in Ravenna, at the hands of the Holy Inquisition headed by Pope Paul V.
The Florentine poet, Dante Alighieri, was exiled from his beloved Florence in the early 14th Century by Pope Boniface Vlll (Cardinal Caetani), with support from the French. Dante’s only daughter, Antonia, was confined to a convent in Ravenna where he was living at the time in 1320. Antonia took the name Sister Beatrice, the name of Dante’s beloved.
In this day and age, the numbers of young Catholic women wishing to give up their freedom “for God” is dwindling.
What is worrying is that sexual harassment and abuse from priests and bishops continues, particularly in third world countries. Rape is common because the clergy believe these nuns to be free from aids, unlike prostitutes. If the nuns’ abuse is uncovered, or they become pregnant, they are the ones to be thrown out onto the roads.
(See previous post ‘Kiss of Betrayal’)
In an extreme case of double standards, always rife in the catholic Church, a nun at a Catholic hospital in Arizona was excommunicated because she approved an emergency abortion last year to save the life of a critically ill young patient. Imagine the hundreds of sexually abused girls and boys who could have been spared lives of misery, if paedophile priests had been excommunicated and reported to police, instead of being shifted around from parish to parish?
From the pen of The Ethical Nag: The Vatican has now launched an “apostolic visitation,” or investigation, of every one of America’s 60,000 religious sisters, accused with having what Vatican spokesman Cardinal Franc Rodé calls “a feminist spirit” and “a secular mentality”. At a time when the male leadership can be blamed for bringing the church to a state of global crisis, even the modest roles accorded to female clerics have come under attack from these men.
Not surprisingly, the appeal of joining a Catholic religious order as a career choice is plummeting. Fewer than 4% of North American Catholic women have even considered becoming a nun, according to 2008 data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. And that’s less than half the number compared to just five years earlier.
And no wonder. Dr. Tina Beattie, who teaches Catholic Studies at Roehampton University in the U.K., gives far more disturbing examples of how the Vatican treats its nuns. For example:
“In 2001, senior leaders of women’s religious orders presented evidence to Rome of the widespread rape and abuse of nuns by priests and bishops, with a particular problem in Africa which has no cultural tradition of celibacy, and where the threat of HIV and Aids means that priests are more likely to prefer sex with nuns than with prostitutes. The Vatican acknowledged the problem and there was a brief flurry of media interest, but this is a scandal which has disappeared without a trace.”
I don’t know whether any Mercy nuns were sexually abused by Catholic clergy when I was a child in their care, but I well remember the awe and deference the nuns exhibited in the presence of priests, bishops, and cardinals. Once I understood the hypocrisy and double standard encouraged by the Church’s teachings, I found these displays sickening.
-Anne Frandi-Coory 3 February 2011
Updated 11 April 2017
In an article about Catholic adoptions, written by a reporter at the Guardian Newspaper in 2009, excerpts appear from the book: ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee’ by Martin Sixmith. (This story has been made into a film Philomena – starring Judi Dench). It tracks the heartbreak of an unmarried mother (fallen woman) whose son was adopted out as an infant. After years of trying to come to terms with her loss, Philomena attempts to track down her son and he in turn looks for her. They are thwarted by various institutions and cruel nuns, her son dies before she finds him, not knowing that she was searching for him too. The book encapsulates the hardships experienced by young mothers and their infants following the adoption process which was often forced on them by the Catholic Church. Stories such as this were repeated over and over in the 40s & 50s, not only in Britain and other parts of Europe, but also in Australasia. My mother, Doreen Frandi (see my post ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’), experienced a similar fate at the hands of the Catholic Church.
Philomena tells the reader that after giving birth, the girls were allowed to leave the convent, only after they or their families paid the nuns one hundred pounds. The vast majority couldn’t afford this sum, so lived a life of ‘pay back’ drudgery for three years while living in the convent. They made artifacts and rosary beads and the Church kept the profits from their sales. [See post July 2010 ... Carla Van Raay’s book God’s Callgirl]. The young mothers were forced to sign a document giving away all their rights to their infants and surrendering them to the nuns.
None of the mothers wanted to give their infants up, but instead of assisting them to keep their babies, the nuns reminded them that they would not be able to keep their babies and work for their upkeep at the same time. Even though she was in her 70s when the article was written, Philomena still cried at the thought of what happened on the day the nuns took her little boy from her. Because her family refused to allow her to return home, she was sent by the Church to work at a home for delinquent boys.
After marrying and having children, Philomena set on a path to find her lost son. She returned again and again to the convent, but the heartless nuns just kept reminding her that she had signed a legal document stating she relinquished all rights to her son and that she would never attempt to find him.
Philomena quotes in the book “Early on in the search, I realised that the Irish Catholic hierarchy had been engaged in what amounted to an illicit baby trade. From the end of the second world war until the 1970s, it considered the thousands of souls born in its care to be the Church’s own property. With or without the agreement of their mothers, it sold them to the highest bidder. Every year, hundreds were shipped off to American couples who paid ‘donations’ (in reality, fees) …the only condition laid down by archbishop McQuaid was that “… [the adopting parents] should be practising Catholics”.
Separated by fate, mother and child spent decades looking for each other and were repeatedly thwarted by the refusal of the Church to reveal information about the family who adopted the boy, each unaware of the other’s heart-breaking search. Her son spent his last years in a downward spiral; tormented by his inability to find his mother and the orphan’s sense of helplessness, he didn’t know where he came from, who he was, or how he should live. He felt unloved by his adoptive family, especially his father. When he contracted aids, he made one last emotional plea to the convent orphanage for information about his mother but they steadfastly refused to oblige this dying man’s final request. He asked therefore if they would at least grant him permission to be buried in the convent cemetery where upon his headstone he could place enough details so that if his mother ever came looking for him (my emphasis) she would know where he was buried. The nuns callously remained tight-lipped about the fact that his mother had been searching for him for decades and that his maternal aunts and an uncle lived just a few miles down the road from the convent. His mother found his obituary in a US newspaper.
Delinquent Angel, a biography about a Melbourne poet, Shelton Lea, written by Diana Georgeff in 2007, is another tragic story about a man’s futile search for his birth mother, the Lea family (NSW Darrell Lea chocolate dynasty) who adopted him and whose ulterior motives didn’t include a loving family life. Yes, and another Christian institution was involved.
Lea Family dynamics proved disastrous for Shelton and his adoptive mother placed him in a psychiatric institution at the age of three. But his biological heritage eventually shone through and although his was a brilliant talent, tragically it never reached its full potential.
-Anne Frandi-Coory 28 August 2013
My childhood was spent in Roman Catholic institutions and my mother was a novice nun before her marriage (see ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’), so this book was of personal interest to me. But of course it is also a well written and interesting book in its own right, well worth the reading. Another great read I found in a second hand book shop.
Carla Van Raay’s book God’s Callgirl is a perspective of the depths, in my opinion, of how far Catholicism has sunk since the beginnings of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus. Carla tells us about her life from her upbringing within a strict Catholic family, sexual and physical abuse by her father, to her entry into a convent as a teenager and her later life as a sex worker. Her life in the convent was spent in prayer and unpaid drudgery, such as cleaning, teaching and needlework (which the convent sold) and when she finally leaves the convent she discovers her parents, who were not well off, were charged by the nuns for Carla’s board and keep! She re-enters the real world as an innocent in every sense of the word. The convent was run by spiteful and cruel nuns within a strict hierarchy. The convent’s inhabitants were called ‘The Faithful Companions of Jesus’, ironic to say the least. Carla triumphs despite the best efforts of her parents and Catholicism.
My mother’s life was also one of hardship and emotional abuse in her convent which was called the ‘Home Of Compassion’. My mother and I, like Carla, never experienced or witnessed any real and heart-felt compassion in any Catholic institutions! In light of what is being exposed within the Catholic Church in recent times, it brings to my mind that saying ‘The higher you fly, the further you fall’.
-Anne Frandi-Coory 8 July 2010