Monday, September 21, 2009

Slavery and Child Trafficking in Ireland?

What do President George H. W. Bush's chief legal counsel, a baby who was stolen from his mother and sold for profit, and a tormented gay man who suffered from depression and died of AIDS, have in common?

They're all the same man.

Few stories get me as angry as those about slavery and selling children for profit. And although today's story isn't as black and white as many such stories, the shocking part is that it took place in Ireland in the 1950's, and the perpetrators were Catholic Nuns. And in case you're thinking, "OK, just another another overblown exaggeration," think again.

Our story starts in 1952, when Philomena Lee, a young Irish lass of 18 years, became pregnant. Philomena's mother died when she was just six herself, and the nuns raised her. At age 18, she knew nothing of men and the facts of life, and became intimate with a handsome young man she met at the county fair. So far, an all-too-common story, yet hardly shocking.

But for young Philomena, the shame of her pregnancy was nothing compared to what came next. The Catholic Church was so powerful that the Irish government had abandoned its duty, and handed over responsibility – and unchecked legal authority – of all unwed mothers and their babies to the Church. The Catholic Church took full control of these young women, imprisoned them in nunneries, and managed to block all legal interference from the government.

The Church started running it as a money-making business, taking money from the government, while at the same time selling the babies for profit to wealthy Catholic couples in Great Britain and America, even against the mothers' direct objections and refusals.

And the profits didn't stop with the babies. Their mothers were kept in the convent as slaves, forced to work in gardens, kitchens, nurseries or light manufacturing, unless they or their families could buy their freedom at a cost £100, a substantial sum in those days which many couldn't afford. It was slavery, plain and simple.

Philomena's baby became Michael Hess, a chief architect of the Republican National Convention's election strategy, whose brilliant work ultimately won the presidency for George H.W. Bush (senior), and for which he was appointed Bush's chief legal counsel. But unfortunately for Michael, he was also a gay man in a political party that didn't put up with homosexuality. Mike ultimately got AIDS, and died.

But even more tragically, both Philomena and Michael were trying desperately to find each other, to reconnect. Each of them went to the convent, and begged to be introduced, mother and son. Michael probably passed within a few miles of his mother. Yet, the Catholic nuns inexplicably refused, in spite of the earnest appeals of everyone involved. Michael died without ever getting to see his mother again, and Philomena never got to see the man that her little boy had become after he was forcibly taken from her and sold.

My summary barely does justice to this appalling story. I hope you'll read the full story, beautifully and tragically written by Martin Sixsmith of The Guardian.

Those who would claim that without religion, there can be no morality (which is the Roman Catholic Church's official position), need only look at deeds such as these to see that even with religion, morality is difficult to find.

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