The United Nations has openly challenged Pope Francis to launch an investigation into decades of abuse of girls and young women at Catholic-run workhouses in Ireland.
It has also demanded the religious orders involved or the Vatican itself pay compensation to survivors and families of victims of the notorious Magdalene Laundries.
In a blistering attack on Rome's response to the laundries scandal – recalled in the recently Oscar-nominated film Philomena – the UN's children's rights watchdog said the church took no action to investigate the abuse.
Nor did church authorities compel nuns who ran the workhouses to co-operate with police inquiries into those who organised and knowingly profited from unpaid work by girls incarcerated in the laundries, the UN said.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said it was particularly concerned that:
- Girls placed in the institutions were forced to work in slavery-like conditions and were often subject to inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment as well as to physical and sexual abuse.
- They were deprived of their identity, education, and often food and essential medicines, and were forced to stay silent and prohibited from having contact with the outside world.
- And unmarried girls who gave birth before entering or while incarcerated in the laundries had their babies forcibly removed.
The laundries were run by four Catholic orders: The Sisters of Mercy, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, The Sisters of Charity, and The Good Shepherd Sisters.
The last laundry, which was in Dublin, closed in 1996.