It's only within the last fifty odd years that the custom for a Mother to give one of her sons to God has begun to fade...she didn't murder one of her boys...she sent him off to Maynooth to train for the priesthood. Whether he wanted to go or not didn't come into it...he went, and the next time he came home would be in black robes. Girls were packed off as well...to have a son in the priesthood and a daughter given to the Nuns was the pinnacle in the pecking order of the Townlands and small villages...
And those young people were sent by the Church all over the world...many went to China as Missionaries...some to South America and to Africa where they struggled with the climate and not understanding the language and were all too often completely isolated from other Europeans...some turned 'native', others took to drink...a few became overly zealous...and many were simply never heard of ever again.
I do rather wish Father Vincent had been sent to the remote regions of China in his youth...but he wasn't unfortunately...he stayed around here to terrorise new widows and pagans like me...
Such a sacrifice on the part of the Mothers...such a terrible assumption to assume your child would fall into a religious life without question.
We know a woman who entered a closed order when she was sixteen...from the day the gates closed behind her she had no contact with her family...no letters or 'phone calls and no visits. The novices were not allowed to develop personal relationships within the community...they could only talk for half an hour each day and that was about religious topics...nothing else. They never went further than the gates of the convent and if a family member died they were allowed a two minute telephone call...while a superior nun listened in to what was being said.
When she told me this I had difficulty in believing her...she is a woman who is considerably younger than I...and I'd naively imagined that the kind of life she was describing was quite impossible. She didn't take her final vows and was eventually released under something of a cloud...but she went on to meet and marry her husband and have two children.
And one of the reasons I've told you that is to try in my own mind to understand why it was that so many nuns were plain cruel to the people in their care...she wasn't caring for anyone because the order she joined was closed...but many like her who were forced into being a 'Bride of Christ' did have people in their care...tiny children and the elderly...those who were sick...and abroad there'd have been leper colonies and tropical diseases...
It tends to be the wayward priests who come to mind of course...those who were far too fond of physical punishment in the Industrial Schools for Boys and those who were sexually deviant...others were cruel for cruelties sake.
The intake at Maynooth has dropped dramatically...now the new recruits, such as they are, tend to be older men who have had careers...many have had families...they've been widowed or made redundant and have made a conscious decision to join the priesthood for good enough reasons. No-one has coerced them or made them feel they are pleasing the Mammy...
I wonder if this means that the endless stories we hear daily about the survivors of the abuse meted out by both nuns and priests will eventually be a matter of history and never repeated by the new intakes...
The Industrial Schools and the Magdalene Laundries are long gone...but the Special schools for children slow in their learning and the homes for the elderly and for the poor and destitute still exist...all of them either run by, or overseen by, the Church.
Were those cruelties meted out to the vulnerable because the people involved were virtually forced into situations they heartily disliked...or had they been left to work the small farms and marry the girl from the next village...would they still have shown a predilection for small boys.
I wonder if the girl in her new nun's habit would have slapped a pregnant woman in labour and forced her to keep on scrubbing the hall floor had she been allowed to go to the village dance and flirt with the handsome lad who lived in the next street...
Insufficient research has been carried out ...actually I don't think any research has been carried out...into why those members of the religious behaved the way they did until around about forty to fifty years ago...and certainly there has been no inquiry into why other religious apparently stood by and allowed widespread abuse to happen...
It would be interesting to find out...wouldn't do the victims any good of course...not now.