Catholic Church and Women Rights Vindication

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Irish females' private lives in Ireland were governed by the state and the Catholic Church throughout the 20th century. The females were forced to repress their desires and sexual thoughts as a result. Women have long been perceived as inferior and weak, which makes it simple for the state and their male peers to exert control over them. The methods used to manage the girls' and women's lives weren't inspiring. This is a result of the parties in charge of them paying little attention to whether the women were deserving of the crude forms of treatment or not. They took charge of their relationships, sexual lives, and social activities.


Human beings need freedom to make decisions that affect their lives. Whether or not the decisions affect their lives positively or negatively is entirely up to them. Nobody needs to work or plead for freedom. The insanity of taking control of people’s lives doesn’t quite add up. I tend to believe that human beings are equal despite the numerous differences that may be pointed out among them. The similar analogy is that all persons were tiny little creatures that grew up with time. Heaney, in Punishment, describes a situation in which a woman is publicly undergoing punishment for falling in love with a British soldier. “I can feel the tug of the halter at the nape of her neck…” (Heaney 1). The woman’s act is a perception of crime. This clearly shows that women had no control of their lives at any one point.

Also, the documentary, Sex in a Cold Climate depicts a society in which the Catholic Church through nuns, was controlling the lives of women. The women in the penitentiaries did not interact with the rest of the world, and all they were to do was maintain silence and pray, nothing more (Heaney 2). The poem and the documentary are clear indications that women did not enjoy their rights. They had their hand tied, and they could not make any decision about their lives.

Abuse and Maltreatment

Consequently, the women were kept in the Catholic Church centers as places of rescue. According to the documentary, the nuns in the penitentiaries were to be the caretakers of the girls they took from the streets for beings harlots. There were those that forcefully found their way there through their relatives and parents. The general thought that comes to mind when you hear of the girls being taken by nuns is that they would have the best treatment since nuns are devoted to the Catholic Church. However, this is not the case because the women seem to be in pain in the penitentiaries. Instead of them being rescue centers they turn into asylums.

In Punishment, Some of the women and girls were forcefully shaved yet it is always clear that the thing girls and women care about the most is their hair. “…her shaved head like a stubble of black corn…” (Heaney 1). Forcing them to shave is the most inhumane treatment they could have undergone. The nuns viewed shaving them as punishment but the general understanding of envy. The nuns could not have normal lives since they had decided to give their all to the church, so they did not like it when other women enjoyed their lives while they didn’t. In the documentary, the women weren’t secure or rather at peace for being in the penitentiaries. The state of the girls is no more different than that in prison. In the documentary, beautiful girls are transferred to other penitentiaries because the nuns believed that they were at the risk of being pregnant. This clearly shows that they weren’t any safer behind the closed walls and doors than they were in the outside world.

Deprivation of Right to Life

Some of the women who gave birth out of wedlock were taken to the penitentiaries because they were a disgrace to their families. Also, parents took their children in efforts to make them reform from any activities they viewed weren’t forthcoming. However, they weren’t aware of the fact that they were subjecting their children to fates much more painful than death. The nuns held themselves in high esteems to the extent that they could determine who had the right to live and who did not. The woman who was in love with a soldier did not know that she was leading a route that would have her buried alive. “…her noose a ring to store the memories of love. Little adulteress, before they punished you…” (Heaney 2). In the documentary, a grave containing 150 buried bodies is dug up. This shows just how the nuns denied the girls and women the right to life in case they erred.

It is quite ironical that a sister who has given her life to Christ and the Catholic Church would just take the life of a girl just because of love. One thing that’s for certain is that we can’t tell our hearts who to love. Since love is just an inevitable part of emotional life that no one ever understands. This makes human beings susceptible to that emotional feeling at one point in life. The first three stanzas of the poem give an image of a naked, fragile girl trembling in the cold to meet her death by the noose. Her flaxen hair shaved using an old knife and her eyes blindfolded. This means that the nuns treated her as if she wasn’t human at all. As if that’s not enough, she gets buried alive after being handed a noose. “…her noose a ring to store the memories of love…” (Heaney 1). Seriously, this doesn’t sound like punishment.

Right to Privacy

Human beings have the right to privacy. No one should put the other to shame by depriving them of their right to privacy. Let alone the good charter; the Bible also does mention that when one is in a holy place, they have to keep sacred their bodies. Meaning that they should not go walking around naked in the place they are supposed to accord maximum respect. The church is expected to be at the frontline in ensuring a fair society. However, this is quite contrary to the nuns who took charge of the penitentiaries that were meant to help members of the society to reform. This is rather ironical. Nuns are part of the Christian Church and subject to the faith stated in the Bible. The general public tends to believe that they make every move according to the Bible. It is for this reason that parents who felt their female children were getting out of hand, took them to the reform center.

In Heaney’s Punishment, the girl who is found to be in live with the British soldier is forced to strip naked. “I can feel the tug of the halter at the nape of her neck, the wind on her naked front. It blows her nipples…” (Heaney 1). The order to do so was from the nun who was in charge of the penitentiary yet it does not coincide to the Bible or Christian faith. The parents would not love to see their children go through such pain. Other than just being naked, the cold did not favor her physical state. It was freezing that she trembled to her ribs. “…it shakes the frail rigging of her ribs.” (Heaney 1). It is clear that the Irish had a rebellion against the British which was a significant show of their nationalism. However, this was not a justification for openly showing their rebellious attitude through a young girl who clearly understood nothing about patriotism.

Right to Social Life

The efforts the nuns had seems to be getting rid of prostitutes from the streets. Also, the sisters in the documentary are seen to be targeting not only harlots but also, widows and other women characters. According to me, they could not be free as the other women were so they had real agendas that they engulfed using the move to cleaning the society of social immoralities. Making the decision to be a nun is one's decision, and none of them was forced to be in their current states. Joining the penitentiaries was also supposed to be done willingly and not forcefully. In the documentary, the nuns are determined to get rid of all the aspects they understood to be social decay. “Little adulteress, before they punished you…” (Heaney 2). It sounds more like detaining an addict in the house without their consent just because you can do so to them.

Nuns are expected to go about their businesses and not pay attention to the lifestyles that other people lead. Forcing people to change is the worst move that one can ever make to their fellow colleagues. The women in the centers were kept locked from the rest of the world. They were to work in laundries, pray and be silent. This totally sounds like imprisonment in other terms. Also, it is deprivation from social lives that everyone has a right to one. The woman in the poem is punished severely for socializing with a British soldier. This is a very exorbitant price to pay for being in contact with a fellow human being.


Conclusively, it is apparent that the nuns in the Catholic penitentiaries did more harm than good to the girls and women there. The were receiving very disheartening treatment in these centers. No human being should feel such pain in the arms of another. What still lingers in my mind and makes my conscious bother me is the fact that the key people who made the women and girls undergo such pain are nuns. The general perception that I have always had about nuns is that they are holy in instruments of the Catholic Church. Apparently, I hold that part of my thoughts in considerable doubt.

Work Cited

Heaney, Seamus, and Seamus Heaney. Seamus Heaney Collection. , 1972. Archival material.

June 26, 2023

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