180 Years Ago, Everyone Knew Her Name

Murder, Rape, and Torture in a Catholic Nunnery: Maria Monk’s Awful DisclosuresMRN Proven True
By Edward Hendrie
Great Mountain Publishing, 2015, 254 pages

I attended a Catholic parochial school for nine years where I was taught by the Sisters of Mercy. Every day I walked by the convent connected to the school and wondered about the mysterious building and the nuns who lived inside. What was their routine? How did they co-exist with their fellow sisters. In the school building we students were sometimes privy to unpleasant exchanges between the sisters.

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. See my review here. 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 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 and having the distinction of being the most-read book in America (besides the Bible) before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, selling a record 300,000 copies prior to 1860. 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 in 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 dedicated to deity and living together in convents from pagan Rome. See here.

A note to the reader: Mr. Hendrie has also written several books which advocate a conspiratorial view of Jews and the nation of Israel. Such material may be found in both Protestant hyper-fundamentalist and Catholic hyper-fundamentalist circles. I do not endorse or recommend those books.

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