Self proclaimed atheist, Brendan O’Neill, is famous for his satirical criticism of the movement that would say that children are a burden on the planet and old people should in some cases be euthanized to reduce their impact.  His book “Can I Recycle My Granny?: And 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas” looks to be an amusing, if somewhat light, read (I can’t say that I have read it myself). 

While perhaps not strictly demography, his latest article in The Telegraph is an interesting critique of how widely circulated and believed statistics can turn out to be quite wrong.  He points out in his opinion piece yesterday the fairly shocking news that the image of the Magdalene laundries in Ireland promoted by the media has been found to be false:

The publication last week of the Irish government’s McAleese Report on the Magdalene laundries has proved kind of awkward for Catholic-bashers…if McAleese’s thorough, 1,000-page study is to be believed… 

In the Irish mind, and in the minds of everyone else who has seen or read one of the many films, plays and books about the Magdalene laundries, these were horrific institutions brimming with violence and overseen by sadistic, pervy nuns. Yet the McAleese Report found not a single incident of sexual abuse by a nun in a Magdalene laundry. Not one.

Also, the vast majority of its interviewees said they were never physically punished in the laundries. As one woman said, “It has shocked me to read in papers that we were beat and our heads shaved and that we were badly treated by the nuns… I was not touched by any nun and I never saw anyone touched.” The small number of cases of corporal punishment reported to McAleese consisted of the kind of thing that happened in many normal schools in the 1960s, 70s and 80s: being caned on the legs or rapped on the knuckles. The authors of the McAleese Report, having like the rest of us imbibed the popular image of the Magdalene laundries as nun-run concentration camps, seem to have been taken aback by “the number of women who spoke positively about the nuns”.

He further comments on other statistics about the Catholic Church that have been wildly embellished:

This isn’t the first time that observers or artists have massively embellished the alleged evilness of the modern Catholic Church…When the Irish government published its Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in 2009, newspaper headlines declared “Thousands were raped in Irish reform schools” or “Thousands raped in Ireland’s Christian Brothers schools”. But actually, the commission heard allegations of 68 rapes, not thousands. That is a horrific number as it is; why embellish it?

…those of us, even atheists like me, who are genuinely interested in truth and justice should definitely be concerned that films and news reports may have left the public with the mistaken belief that women in Magdalene laundries were stripped and beaten and that thousands of Irish and American children were raped by priests.

Catholic-bashers frequently accuse the Catholic religion of promoting a childish narrative of good and evil that is immune to factual evidence. Yet they do precisely the same, in the service of their fashionable and irrational new religion of anti-Catholicism.

With the shock and dismay people worldwide have felt about the awful figures regarding abuse in the Church (which obviously did exist to an extent and was indeed very shocking), it seems disturbing that the media is allowed to get away with reporting so much false information.  It certainly leads you to question both statistics elsewhere and just which groups are pushing the information we get from our media regarding population and any number of other issues…



Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...