- Paperback: 254 pages
- Publisher: Great Mountain Publishing (May 1, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1943056005
- ISBN-13: 978-1943056002
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,428,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Murder, Rape, and Torture in a Catholic Nunnery Paperback – May 1, 2015
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Nuns and convents were such an integral part of Catholic parish culture back in those days that we didn’t even think twice about them. But is there anything more cultish than a large group of unmarried virgins living together as “brides of Christ” replete with wedding rings?
Convent escape narratives were quite popular in 19th and early 20th century Protestant literature. Ex-nuns reported blushingly-veiled accounts of abuse, torture, murder, unnatural affections, predatory nuns, predatory priests, and infanticide. Catholic spokespersons called the books “Puritan porn,” dismissing them completely as anti-Catholic fantasy. But given human nature and the mandatory celibacy of religious orders it’s certainly not surprising that abuses took place. Catholic apologists had no response to the 2015 non-fiction bestseller, “The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal,” by distinguished German historian, Hubert Wolf, which documents murder and large-scale mischief in just one Italian convent in the 1850s. Also, we’re all aware of the scandalous news reports of pedophile priests over the last twenty years. A number of Catholic dioceses and organizations have been bankrupted by payouts to victims.
One of the earliest and, perhaps, the most famous of the convent escape narratives was “The Awful Disclosure of Maria Monk: The Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed,” published in 1836. The general public was outraged by Monk’s allegations of abuse, debauchery, murder, and infanticide within the walls of the Hotel-Dieu (a hospital) convent in Montreal. Catholic officials responded by mounting a determined attack on Monk’s testimony and character while Protestants defended her with equal tenacity. What was the truth?
In this book, attorney Edward Hendrie examines the published “evidence” from both sides of the controversy and concludes Monk’s story was factual. Obviously, after 180 years, there is no evidence remaining of Monk’s account other than the published testimonies of long-dead individuals who claimed they knew her. Hendrie draws some very reasonable conclusions based on the available facts. There is no doubt where his sympathies lie from the very first page but at least the book represents a balance to the widely accepted Catholic accounts of Monk at Wikipedia and elsewhere.
I occasionally wonder what happened to the nuns who taught at my school so many years ago. They entered the convent believing such an austere life would bring them closer to God. But the only way to God is by accepting Jesus Christ as Savior by faith. The institutionalized church borrowed the idea of unmarried virgins betrothed to deity and living together in convents from pagan Rome.
Maria Monk's Awful Disclosures was first published in January, 1836. In it, Monk exposed various scandalous events that, according to her, had occurred at the Hotel Dieu convent in Montreal. She claimed convent nuns were having sexual relations with priests from the neighboring seminary who supposedly entered the convent through a secret tunnel. All babies born of these illicit encounters, Monk claimed, were baptized before being strangled and dumped in a lime pit in the basement of the convent. Maria Monk said she had lived in the convent for a total of seven years before becoming pregnant by a priest. Unable to bear the thought of having her child killed and dumped in the basement, she finally fled.
The publication of Maria Monk's Awful Disclosures caused an enormous public outcry that fed on the widespread anti-Catholic sentiment of the era. Leading protestants in New York and Montreal demanded an investigation of the convent, to which demand the Bishop of Montreal eventually acquiesced. It turned up no evidence to support Maria Monk's claims, but American Protestants refused to accept these results, claiming the investigation was biased because it had supposedly been conducted by Jesuits disguised as Protestants.
A New York City newspaper editor, Col. William Leete Stone, asked the Bishop for permission to investigate with a team of protestants. The bishop granted his request, and in October 1836 Stone led a team around the convent. With Maria Monk's book in hand, he compared her description of the convent's interior with the convent itself. He found very little correspondence between the two. However he was not allowed to see the nun's rooms or the basement area and had to return to New York City, his investigation unfinished.
Col. Stone later obtained permission to see the entire convent and, on the basis of this fuller investigation, concluded there was no evidence Maria Monk "had ever been within the walls of the cloister."
With her claims discredited, Maria Monk fell from public view. A rumor emerged that she had actually been a prostitute in Montreal, and that the years she claimed to have spent in a convent were spent in the Magdalen Asylum for Wayward Girls. She was later arrested for picking the pocket of a man who had paid her for sex. She died in prison on Welfare Island, New York City, in 1849. Her Awful Disclosures, despite having been shown to be false, remained in print until well into the twentieth century.
Links and References
Billington, Ray Allen. The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism. New York, 1958: 98-117
Awful Disclosures by Maria Monk of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal. 1836.