There are many television shows and movies that question the clergy in a confrontational way. Hollywood gave us the brilliant movie Spotlight. There was the commercially popular The Da Vinci Code and an independent film named Philomena. The Derry Girls is a comedic take on the Irish conflict and its connection with Catholicism. 1923, the Paramount+ show, comes close to questioning the abuses the Catholic Church inflicted on the indigenous culture.
What was the Church guilty of?
Just like that, The Woman in the Wall is also a serious take on the horrifying acts conducted by the Catholic Church of Ireland in the name of religion. The show paints a rather scary picture of how the church, over decades, carried out harrowing acts without being questioned by any authority. The show had a couple of characters who went out of their way to justify crimes they committed. They never considered it an act of crime from their end. Their reasoning was that it was done to appease God.
The Woman in the Wall begins with the death of Father Percy Sheehan, who seems to have been killed in a robbery gone wrong. This sets up the show in a rather murky manner and allows the audience to understand that the murder could lead to many shocking revelations. Detective Colman Akande takes over the investigation of the case because he has known Father Sheehan for many years. As the investigation into his death begins, Colman is in for a shock as he realizes the man who was his mentor for many years turned out to be a repeat offender. Father Sheehan had committed plenty of human rights violations. On reaching the town of Kilkinure, Colman learns that Father Sheeran and Sister Eileen were perpetrators of inhuman practices involving pregnant teenage girls who were forced to work at laundries. The town came to be famous for the scandal that exposed the Magdalene Laundries, and the media questioned their role in grooming young women. Colman is horrified because he was raised in a similar mother-and-child home named “Lazarus House,” and he wonders what kind of despicable incidents happened during his brief stay until he was adopted.
What is the nature of the crime?
Colman unearths that the church was involved in berating and emotionally abusing young girls. During childbirth, without the consent of the young mother, the kids would be taken away. The mothers would not know where their kids would end up. This cycle went on for three decades, as per some women from the town. They have come out and are vocal about the mental and physical harassment they faced at the hands of the clergy. Lorna Brady and many women of her age were teenagers in the 1970s, and these same girls were considered “fallen women” for not conforming to society’s standards for women.
Father Sheehan and Sister Eileen endorsed this patriarchal behavior in the name of religion and put all the onus on women for not being pure and pious. They needed to be taught a lesson for indulging in pleasures of the flesh. Even girls who had no parents were forced into this system, which pushed them to become another regressive version of themselves. Women of Lorna’s generation, in the wake of the scandal, speak up about the compensation they deserved for being gaslighted and abused. The actions of the church still have repercussions. Case in point: Lorna, who not only lost her daughter to them but ended up suffering many mental health-related issues.
Why was Colman deeply affected by his findings?
For Colman, it was a matter of disbelief that someone close to him was involved in human trafficking and exchanged kids for money, which was accepted as a donation. He himself was a product of this system which upset him and made him question the faith he had in religion. He was quick to understand that it was a system that was tainted, not religion. Father Sheehan, along with James Coyle, the philanthropist, managed to conduct large-scale human trafficking, and for many years, there was no trail as such to trace back to the two of them. James Coyle, in the show, runs the Eadrom Group, which is planning to facilitate compensation for women who were a part of Father Sheehan and Sister Eileen’s convents and consider them a part of Magdalene Laundries.
Sister Eileen was the only one who was alive to admit to the horrors that happened under her watch. On being questioned by Colman, she dismisses all the coverage that has happened about the laundries and the atrocities. Sister Eileen is deluded and carried away by the power she had all these years, and since she can see it diminishing, her only response is to admonish everything that questions the church in Ireland.
How did Sister Eileen respond?
A menacing Sister Eileen also manages to frighten Lorna, who questioned the Sister’s actions decades ago. Eileen managed to do this to many young girls and women to control their minds and lives. Eileen was responsible for causing a rift between a young Clemence and Lorna, which was still the reason why the two of them never got along that well. Lorna always tried to reach out, but Clemence’s trust was already betrayed thanks to a manipulative Eileen who carried out similar tactics with every teenage girl who walked through the corridors of the convent. The lady dares to remain adamant about her behavior when all the survivors confront her and criticize her. Sister Eileen might have been getting old, but she had reached a point where she will not be apologizing for her actions.
Lorna and Colman’s investigation of the death certificates reveals that out of 298, only three had an official record of being dead. While many were found alive, there was a percentage of babies who could not be tracked. These women confront Eileen and force her to reveal the truth behind it. Sister Eileen, for the first time, is cornered.
What were Father Sheehan and Sister Eileen wanting to do?
Father Sheehan and Sister Eileen intended to retain control over the people in the name of religion and impart their doctrines to many others. They ruled the town with an iron fist, which is why these horrifying stories never came out three decades ago. The local police officer, Sergeant Massey, also claims that he played a small role in propagating these methods, and nobody from the community ever questioned the church and their practices. Father Sheehan, though, was accidentally killed by Aoife Cassidy as he fell down the stairs while having an altercation with her. The scuffle was about Aoife’s plan to reveal the crime the Father and the entire Church were involved in. She also planned to inform the mothers about the whereabouts of the infants they lost to the convent.
Aoife wanted to expose the syndicate, but sadly, that did not happen. Colman wanted to arrest James Coyle for his role in the trafficking of the kids, but his employee ended up taking the fall for him. The intention of such an institution called Catholicism in Ireland is to make sure their people do not question their actions. But with scandals like the Magdalene laundries coming out, they have started questioning the basis on which all these unspeakable crimes were committed. The Woman in the Wall showcases quite the terrifying picture of how far people could go for the sake of their faith.