How the Irish Catholic Church has harmed our people, our schools, and our democracy

In the aftermath of the Mother and Baby Homes report, Seamus McKenna outlines how the Irish Catholic Church has harmed our people, our schools, and our democracy.

On the 12th of January 2021 the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters in the Republic of Ireland was published. This is a judicial report. It began its deliberations in 2015. Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland were established as places where unmarried women were brought in order to have their children, and operated at their peak in the years after independence from Britain in 1922.

The new Ireland was a Theocracy in all but name. Since the Reformation, Irish nationalism and Roman Catholicism had been closely connected. The new state was in dire straits economically, and the government saw ceding schools and hospitals to the management and control of the Catholic Church as a pragmatic step.

The Church was only too happy to cooperate in this, as it believed that both education and health were key areas in the maintenance of adherence to its faith, and for the recruitment of priests, nuns, and teaching monks. Unfortunately for Ireland, the flavour of Roman Catholicism at the time was of the most austere and rigid kind. It focussed on the primacy of original sin and human depravity, with a particular emphasis on matters of a sexual nature.

Catholic Church influence on politicians

This strongly influenced the new government, to the extent that it was able to make contraception illegal under the law from 1933 until 1978. Divorce had been outlawed under the Constitution of 1937. Abortion was such a taboo subject at the time that it was not even considered for mention in the same constitution or laws.

So strong was the hold that Catholicism had over the government that when a new minister for Foreign Affairs, Sean McBride, was appointed in 1948, he sent a message to the Pope, Pius XXII, on behalf of the whole cabinet and signed by the then Taoiseach (Prime Minister), which read:

“On the occasion of our assumption of office and our first cabinet meeting, my colleagues and myself desire to repose at the feet of Your Holiness the assurance of our filial loyalty and devotion as well as our firm resolve to be guided in all our work by the teaching of Christ and to strive for the attainment of a social order in Ireland based on Christian principles. John A. Costello. Prime Minister.”

Two months later the same Sean McBride wrote to the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, the Archbishop of Armagh, to say:

“I should be very indebted to Your Grace if Your Grace would say a prayer asking God to give me the wisdom necessary to carry out my new duties well and faithfully. I trust that if at any time any matter arises upon which Your Grace feels disposed to give me advice, formally or informally, that Your Grace will not hesitate to do so. I shall always welcome advice and be entirely at Your Grace’s disposal.”

Bishops and priests had tremendous power in the early and middle decades of the 20th century. Whatever was prescribed during a sermon at mass was obeyed unquestioningly by the population at large.

Catholic Church influence on sex

Sex was the real bugbear for this unholy alliance of church and state. Abstinence outside of marriage, and then the wholesale production of children within it, were the order of the day. Transgressors, of whom unfortunate women and girls who became pregnant without being married were the most visible, were dealt with very harshly indeed. Some of these were no more than children themselves.

The ruling orthodoxy insisted that they should be sent to the Mother and Baby Homes. The idea seemed to be that they and their children should be kept out of sight so that others would not be ‘scandalised’ by the occurrence, until such time as the children could be taken away for adoption.

In the meantime the girls were forced to work unpaid in laundries and in other similar places, were subject to all kinds of psychological cruelties, and were denied an education. Children who had been bonding with their mothers for considerable periods of time were taken away for adoption, forcefully and without the consent of the mother. One tragic element in all this was that the families of these unfortunate girls often reacted, due to the ambience of the time, by throwing them out of their homes and having nothing more to do with them.

The following is from the Wikipedia article on the Mother and Baby Homes report:


The report detailed an “appalling level of infant mortality at mother-and-baby homes,” and said “in the years before 1960 mother-and-baby homes did not save the lives of ‘illegitimate’ children; in fact, they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival.” It detailed that around 9,000 children, one in seven of those born in the 18 institutions covered by the Commission’s terms of reference, had died in them between 1922 and 1998, double the rate of infant mortality in the general population.

Medical experiments

The report confirmed that children had been subject to medical experiments, being used in vaccine trials without parental or guardian consent. All were carried out by either the Wellcome Foundation or Glaxo Laboratories, which have since merged to form the GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical company”.

Religious conditioning

Religious myths were the great enablers in the outrages that were carried out in Mother and Baby Homes. The real scandal is that Ireland still, to this day, inculcating them into its children in its state-run primary schools.

It is hard to imagine that nuns, who were probably innately caring people, could have easily committed such cruelties as taking away a child who had been bonding with its mother for three years or so to send off to America, never to be seen again. Therefore they had to rationalise this behaviour. They did this by telling themselves that the women concerned were sinners, and deserved to be punished. We have it from the Mother and Baby Home report that the victims were regularly taunted with such epithets as “sinner”, “dirt”, “spawn of Satan”.

But this is what Ireland is allowing its children to be conditioned with in its primary schools today, presented, if you don’t mind, as fact. Right now it is possible for a six-year old to report that they have been told by a teacher, a person of authority, that they will burn in hell for ever if they commit sins. No parent will take an action against this abusive behaviour because he or she will not want to further traumatise the child. It is up to the government to protect children in schools. To do this it must remove the stranglehold that religion has on the primary school system, for once and for all.

Freedom of and from religion

Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. This should mean that non-believers have the same rights as believers. One of these rights is a guarantee that one’s children can be brought up in the belief system of their parents. Children, of course, have a right to an education, and a system of Primary, Secondary and Third-Level Schooling has been put in place in Ireland to facilitate this.

The management arrangements, particularly for Primary schools in Ireland, brings those two rights into sharp and irreconcilable conflict for non-believers. The reason for this is that over 90% of such schools are under the management of the Catholic Churchand, while in theory children of non-Catholics should not be exposed to the religious indoctrination given to their believing peers in schools, this cannot happen in practice; teaching resources do not allow for separate supervision of opting-out students when religious formation is taking place, so they must sit in the same classroom as their peers at these times, where they are just as exposed to evangelisation as are the others.

Because the managers regard these schools as Catholic schools, despite the fact that they are funded by the government and therefore by the generality of taxpayers, they have instituted what they call the Integrated Curriculum, where Catholic religious principles can and are introduced into any and all subjects during the school day. Add in the preponderance of Catholic religious statuary and other symbolism throughout the school, and it can be seen that there is no place in the majority of Irish primary schools for the children of non-believers.

All of this has been well documented elsewhere, and will be well-known to anyone with an interest in education in Ireland. It is included it here for completeness, and to provide context.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The current arrangements can and do give rise to very real trauma for children. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the latest version of which was promulgated in 1992, with revisions in 1997, has this to say:

1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.612 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”613 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”

Teachers in Catholic managed schools in Ireland (whose salaries are paid by the government) are hired on the understanding that they will make themselves familiar with this and similar teachings, and they must pass them on to their charges.

This has had the very distressing effect of a six-year old coming home in anguish, because she has come to realise that her non-believing father, at that time easily one of the two most important people in her life, falls into the category of those who will be cast into eternal fire. It took considerable effort on the part of her mother to reassure her that, because her father lived a good life, he was not going to be given that treatment. This scenario must be replicated across the land, and is nothing short of child abuse. It is endemic in Irish schools, and it is happening right now.

Catholic church teaching on abortion

In 2019, the Irish government passed into law legislation that allows for abortion to take place after a referendum on the question in 2018. It was obvious during the debate before the vote that the Catholic Church maintained its position that abortion must be kept illegal in any and all circumstances. This was despite the most harrowing stories told by women whose pregnancies had gone horribly wrong, and for whom an abortion was the only humane and indeed in many cases non-fatal solution.

There is evidence that children in Irish Primary schools under the management of the Catholic Church are still being taught the official church line about abortion. They are still teaching, in the primary schools that they control, courtesy of the Irish taxpayer, that abortion is wrong under any and all circumstances, in contravention to the law of the land. They are teaching this to pre-pubescent children.


The new independent Ireland was a Catholic theocracy in all but name. Sex was the real bugbear for this unholy alliance of church and state. Religious myths were the great enablers in the outrages that were carried out in Mother and Baby Homes. Ireland still inculcates these myths into children in its state-run primary schools.

Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion, including in our schools. The Irish government has a clear responsibility here. It must take back control of all primary schools and make religion a private matter. Doing this should not be too difficult. It is already the case in France and under the Constitution of the United States.

Atheist Ireland

1 Comment

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    David Kiernan January 24, 2021

    Thanks very much for this excellent article from Seamus McKenna. The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, the Irish franchise of the global Roman Catholic Church has no shame. Scandal after scandal, gross abuse of power enabled by a compliant population and supine Politicians.