“Let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24)
This weekend I finally caught up with the rest of the world and watched Philomena. It wasn’t something my husband really fancied watching and so it hadn’t been that high on our list of films to rent. But when it came on he sat there transfixed. The story was incredible, the acting superb and the subject matter chilling. So often we hear about the older generation yearning to go back to the ‘good old days’ and yet, however much we may mourn some of the directions are society is going in, it is important to remember that the past wasn’t perfect.
I wasn’t going to blog about the film, thinking I’d missed the boat months ago, and then I watched the news last night. As you are undoubtedly aware there are currently two inquiries looking into the area of historical child abuse scandals due to claims of an ‘establishment cover-up’. As BBC News reported:
“One is an overarching inquiry into the way public bodies and other important institutions have handled child sex abuse claims. The other will look at how the Home Office dealt with allegations about powerful figures and paedophilia in the 1980s.”
I know that we are still reeling from the facts revealed in the Jimmy Savile case. And the inquiry into whether there was historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland children’s homes and other institutions was first set up in 2012. I find it incredible that there is a possibility that child abuse was going on at a high level within government. Today the BBC reported:
“Last week, Amnesty’s NI director, Patrick Corrigan said there were fears that there were ‘many more victims and abusers’ at Kincora [children's home] during the period between 1960 and 1980.
He said: ‘Allegations have persisted that paedophilia at Kincora was linked to British intelligence services, with claims that visitors to the home included members of the military, politicians and civil servants, and that police investigations into abuse at Kincora were blocked by the Ministry of Defence and MI5.’“
It is not the specifics of child abuse cover-up that I want to talk about here, as I am at a complete loss to know quite how to respond (I also know that I am not qualified to share a well-rounded opinion as I know so little of the history). All I can do is describe the overriding sense of sorrow I felt when watching Philomena and then, subsequently, the news. Because last night it was also announced:
“Judge Yvonne Murphy will chair an inquiry into church-run ‘mother and baby homes’ in the Republic of Ireland. The Commission of Investigation was set up after the remains of almost 800 children were found in Tuam, County Galway, earlier this year. It was one of 10 institutions in which about 35,000 unmarried mothers – so-called fallen women – are thought to have been sent.”
However those young pregnant women arrived at the mother and baby homes, they ended up as mothers. I understand that some would have preferred not to have had their children. I also know that others would have realised they didn’t have the means to look after their children. But the point is, both in the film (based on a true story) and on the news last night, it was made very clear that mothers were sometimes either coerced into signing legal documents to say they no longer had any rights to their child or their child was sold without their prior knowledge or agreement. And often their children ended up in America or Australia, making it almost impossible for the young mothers to track their children down.
I know that as a mum myself my emotions really come into play when I watch things about children being taken from their parents, and so my heart bled as I watched the Judi Dench character in Philomena being told her son was being taken and she tried desperately to reach him before it was too late.
I am not standing in judgement on anyone – the nuns in the homes, the government who must have known what was happening. I do not have all the facts in front of me and I am not in a position to be able to do anything about it anyway. However I do believe that we should continue to push for the facts to be made known. It is scandalous that a lot of records were destroyed – that kind of action tends to knock any argument about people doing what they felt was best at the time out the water as that is deliberate cover-up. To hear that there may have been drug trials undertaken on children in institutional homes is yet another can of worms that needs investigating. How horrific.
What struck and pained me most last night is that so many of those mothers never found their children – Philomena at least learned of the successful life her son had had, but the news last night interviewed Helen Murphy, who found out her mother had been in the same city as her all along – Cork – but died three weeks before she tracked her down. How tragic. And how unjust.
Terri Harrison, who was sent to a mother and baby home in 1973 aged 18, told BBC News last night that the girls were repeatedly told, “You are here because nobody wants you… you are here because you sinned.”
What message would that have driven into the very souls of those girls, which would no doubt have lasted far longer than their time in the institution? Being told they were unwanted over and over again would have affected their identity and self-esteem. I am not condoning the fact that these girls were unwed mothers, but it does make me wonder what Jesus would have said to them – I suspect his message would have been very different…
As Christians we are called to “let justice roll like a river”. I think that when we hear of unjust issues like this we have a responsibility, first and foremost, to pray. Pray for that justice and pray for all those involved. Because they all need God’s intervention.