Eight Hundred Dead Irish Children
… thrown into the sewer, by Catholic nuns. From the Washington Post:
In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there’s a six-foot stone wall that once surrounded a place called the Home. Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Home, run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam.
Many of the women, after paying a penance of indentured servitude for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, left the Home for work and lives in other parts of Ireland and beyond. Some of their children were not so fortunate.
More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed — where a housing development and children’s playground now stands — what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins.
“The bones are still there,” local historian Catherine Corless, who uncovered the origins of the mass grave in a batch of never-before-released documents, told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “The children who died in the Home, this was them.”
The grim findings, which are being investigated by police, provide a glimpse into a particularly dark time for unmarried pregnant women in Ireland, where societal and religious mores stigmatized them. Without means to support themselves, women by the hundreds wound up at the Home. “When daughters became pregnant, they were ostracized completely,” Corless said. “Families would be afraid of neighbors finding out, because to get pregnant out of marriage was the worst thing on Earth. It was the worst crime a woman could commit, even though a lot of the time it had been because of a rape.”
During its years of operation the children of The Home were referred to as “inmates” in the press. It was believed by the clergy that the harsh conditions there were in themselves a form of corrective penance. The state, the church and their families all failed these women, Corless contends.
But even now the unexpected difficulty that the local committee Corless has joined to fundraise for a plaque to remember the dead children suggests that not everyone wants to confront the truth about the building’s tragic past.
“I do blame the Catholic Church,” says Corless. “I blame the families as well but people were afraid of the parish priest. I think they were brainwashed. I suppose the lesson is not to be hiding things. To face up to reality.
“My fear is that if things aren’t faced now it’s very easy to slide back into this kind of cover-up again. I want the truth out there. If you give people too much power it’s dangerous.”
Living and dying in a culture of shame and silence for decades, the Home Babies’ very existence was considered an affront to Ireland and God.
It was a different time, some defenders argued this week, omitting to mention that the stigmatizing silence that surrounded The Home was fostered by clerics. Indeed the religious orders were so successful at silencing their critics that for decades even to speak of The Home was to risk contagion.
And now that terrifying era of shame and silence is finally lifting, we are left to ask what all their lonesome suffering was in aid of, and what did it actually achieve?
These poor children were treated as subhumans by nuns, and by the Church, and the State that didn’t dare speak up for them, all because those babies came into the world outside of wedlock.
Look, this revolting monument to ecclesial and social evil does not obviate the importance of marriage, nor does it obviate the truth of Christianity. It does not make unwed childbearing good or desirable. But it does condemn a Catholic Ireland that saw sexual purity as more important than human life, or common decency. To children. Children seen by Christ’s own consecrated brides as so filthy they deserved burial in a septic tank.
And it behooves people like me, who bemoan the cruelties and disorder of our own post-Christian era, to recognize that the order whose passing we mourn contains within it many things that are better off consigned to hell.
The collapse of Catholicism in Ireland is a judgment upon the Irish church, priests and laymen both, which will not emerge from it until it has paid the last penny.
To my mind, these foul crimes against women and children, along with the brutal stigmatization of gay people as “objectively disordered”, remain a testament to how the insidious, neurotic and usually misogynist fixation on sex has distorted and destroyed Christianity in ways we are only now beginning to recover from. For what we see here is the consequence of elevating sexual sin above all others, of fixating on human sexuality as the chief source of evil in the world, and of a grotesquely distorted sense of moral priorities, where stigmatization of the sexual sinner vastly outweighs even something as basic as care for an innocent child.
It seems to me that we have to move past the church’s current doctrines on sex if we are to fully seek justice for the victims of this pathology and if we are to ensure that never again is a phrase that actually means something. It is not enough to ask for a change in governance (and even that has been hard); what this evil signifies is the need to root out this pernicious obsession with sexual sin. This pathology – perpetuated by Benedict and the sex-phobic theocons – perpetuates the mindset that led to this barbarism.
I will grant that he has something of a point. There is no way to explain what happened at that home for unwed mothers as anything other than worshiping a virtue — purity — to the point that it becomes a hideous vice. But Sullivan is mostly wrong, wrong, wrong, though wrong in a way we have come to expect. It is certainly not the case that observing Christianity’s sexual teachings inevitably leads to atrocities like that committed by the fanatical Irish nuns, and more than the idea that Christianity’s strong warnings against the corruptions of wealth must be resisted lest they lead to lynch mobs burning the wealthy at the stake.
It is undeniably true that to treat sexual impurity as if it were the worst sin distorts the Gospel. But the Sullivan solution, to treat it as if it were no big deal not only is a flat-out denial of the truth proclaimed by the Christian faith, but leads to the opposite kind of fanaticism, this one from the pro-sex side. You may find the bones of that fanaticism’s victims in many cases where those who partook of bathhouse sex and lay buried, dead from AIDS.
As unjust and illogical as it is, Sullivan’s lesson is the one that the world will take from the septic-tank sarcophagus of the Irish innocents. And this too is a judgment upon the Church. Its acts have helped modern people feel that the crushing of traditional Christianity is, in Roger Scruton’s words, “a kind of moral necessity” to “destroy the things that stand in judgment over us.”
To save us from the tyranny of fanatically Jansenist nuns and priests, the Sullivans would introduce an equal and opposite form of oppression, though one as consonant with the values of the world today as anti-sex obsessiveness was with the world of Ireland of the first half of the 20th century.