Bethany Home and the Church of Ireland
Sir, – With great sadness, I see that Janet Maxwell, on behalf of the Church of Ireland, “corrects” Canon Ronnie Clarke’s recent brave letter, criticising the Church of Ireland for its historical role with regard to the Bethany Home, its victims and its survivors (Letters, December 20th, 21st).
The Church of Ireland says, in effect, nothing to do with us.
When I met Janet Maxwell 18 years ago she told me she had no idea what went on in the Bethany Home. I had to bring her up to speed. She was not aware that: the archbishop of Dublin opened this home for what he termed “fallen” women in 1922; that money was donated in his name; that the dean of Christchurch said that Bethany continued the work of a Church of Ireland charity which deflected women from “evil ways”; that Church of Ireland clergy continually sat on the management committee; and that many other clergy sent unmarried mothers to the home.
In 1939 a member of the Church of Ireland who inspected the home on behalf of the State expressed no concern about large numbers of dead, dying and very sick babies. They were, he reported officially, “illegitimate”, therefore “delicate”, and more prone to sickness and death. In 1945 the archbishop of Dublin Dr Barton designated Bethany Home as a place suitable for young female offenders. He pointed out to the then-minister for justice that it was already used by the courts to incarcerate Protestant women convicted of petty theft up to and including infanticide. Unsurprisingly, unmarried mothers were termed “inmates”.
Though the Church of Ireland donated money, and consigned women and abandoned children to the Bethany Home, the survivors’ campaign obtained not one cent from the church. The church was connected to the aims of the Bethany Home while it ran, but is disconnected from it today. It does not want to acknowledge responsibility for the harm the home perpetrated.
Janet Maxwell and the Church of Ireland did provide clergy for an annual memorial service for the past three years. I thank her for that.
Janet Maxwell’s public response to Canon Ronnie Clarke says a lot about internal attitudes within the Church of Ireland. I hope that Canon Clarke will not feel disheartened, He is the first Protestant church leader to stand up for his flock in this matter for over 20 years. I hope others speak out as he does while they contemplate a child born in a stable 2,000 years ago. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Janet Maxwell of the Church of Ireland Synod Services states that the Church of Ireland neither owned nor managed the Bethany Home.
The Church of Ireland, while not directly owning or managing the Bethany Home, was clearly involved in setting up and running it, but at arm’s length – very conveniently as it has turned out!
The then Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin opened the Bethany Home for “fallen women” in 1922 and the dean of Christ Church Cathedral presided at the first management committee meeting.
It incorporated the Dublin Midnight Mission and Female Refuge, and the Dublin Prison Gate Mission, both Church of Ireland-affiliated organisations.
Several Church of Ireland clergymen, some of whom were superintendents or members of the Irish Church Mission to the Roman Catholics, now known as the Irish Church Mission (ICM), sat on its management committee.
The ICM reports to the Church of Ireland synod and its superintendent is appointed by the archbishop of Dublin.
The then Church of Ireland archbishop of Dublin in 1945 recommended the Bethany Home, “an evangelical institution for unmarried women and their children”, as a suitable place for “Protestant girls on remand”. Many of the women sent there were referred by Church of Ireland clergy.
Church of Ireland clergyman Rev Kevin Dalton, who as a child spent time at Bethany along with his mother, described it as “A Church of Ireland home for unmarried girls”.
The Bethany Home records are held by the Church of Ireland.
Surely the Church of Ireland cannot persist in refusing to take responsibility for this appalling scandal?
Such a strategy could be construed as a cynical ploy to wait until all the survivors have died, in a misguided effort to shore up the Church of Ireland’s reputation and avoid monetary compensation. – Yours, etc,