Demand the Catholic Church Apologize for Enslaving Irish Women Until 1996

Target: Cardinal Seán Brady, Catholic Primate of All Ireland

Goal: Apologize for the forced labor of thousands of Irish women by the Catholic Church until 1996

For 74 years, until as recently as 1996, over 10,000 women were forced into unpaid labor at institutional laundries run by the Catholic Church, called the “Magdalene Laundries.” Although the Irish Prime Minister issued a partial apology recently, the Catholic Church has yet to apologize for what amounted to slavery.

For infractions as minor as not paying for a train ticket, the women at the Magdalene Laundries were locked in and forced to work, day in and day out, without pay. They were sometimes held there against their will for years at a time. Many of the women were under the age of 23, and many were minors no more than fourteen years old. The last laundry closed in 1996.

Despite international activism, appeals to the United Nations, and an Irish government report, the Catholic Church has barely acknowledged the issue, and has certainly not apologized. Officials have said that it is up to the individual religious orders who ran the laundries to investigate claims of abuse, which they have pointedly not done.

The Catholic Church has come under intense scrutiny in Ireland and elsewhere for priest sex abuse scandals, but the issue of its involvement in forced slave labor has had far less international impact. The Catholic Church often seems only to apologize for its missteps when pressured by victims and activists.

By signing the petition below, you will demand that the Catholic Church, the primary organization responsible for the enslavement of Irish women as recently as 1996, apologize for this crime and commit to restitution for the victims.


Dear Cardinal Seán Brady,

For 74 years, until the recent date of 1996, elements of the Catholic Church practiced forced labor in the Magdalene Laundries, forcing some 10,000 women to work, often for months and years at a time. While there, these women and girls were subjected to numerous privations and violations of their human rights.

To date, the Catholic Church has not apologized for these serious wrongs. The Irish government, responding to calls on the United Nations Committee Against Torture to investigate, launched an inquiry, which was recently concluded. The Prime Minister of Ireland partially apologized for the state’s involvement in early February.

We ask that you, as the leading Catholic in Ireland, lead the way by fully apologizing to the victims of this forced labor system and taking steps to address the grievances of the victims and their families. The Church in Ireland has come under a lot of criticism of late; this is an opportunity for you to lead the Catholic Church down the right path. Please do the right thing and apologize.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Flickr

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One Comment

  1. Hard to think that God condoned this.

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57 Signatures

  • Ellen McCann
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