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June 6, 2014 10:21 AM   Subscribe

A week later she got back to me and said do you really want all of these deaths? I said I do. She told me I would be charged for each record. Then she asked me did I realize the enormity of the numbers of deaths there?”

The registrar came back with a list of 796 children. “I could not believe it. I was dumbfounded and deeply upset,” says Corless. “There and then I said this isn’t right. There’s nothing on the ground there to mark the grave, there’s nothing to say it’s a massive children’s graveyard. It’s laid abandoned like that since it was closed in 1961.”
It had long been known children had died in the Mother and Baby home for "fallen women" in Tuan Galway, but it was not until local historian Catherine Corless started investigating that it became clear that between 1925 and 1961, 800 children were buried in a mass grave on the site, possibly inside a septic tank.

The Mother and Baby homes, mostly as here run by Catholic organisations, were infamous and feared, intended more to punish women who had babies born out of wedlock, as well as their children, than support them, as is clear in the story of one Irish woman at another such institute, whose baby died shortly after being born and who wasn't allowed to even attend his burial:
It was through two nuns squabbling that Mary had learned that a dirty needle had been used on her during her labour at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork.

It took another 31 years and a visit to Bessborough however before the Sacred Heart nuns admitted to Mary that her baby boy had died of septicaemia.
As Conall Ó Fátharta lays out in The Irish Examiner none of this is news, but neither the church nor the state wants to know about it:
The fact is that infants are buried on the grounds of mother-and-baby homes all around the country. Adopted people and natural parents gather for dignified memorial services at ‘angel plots’ in places such as Bessborough in Cork, Castlepollard in Westmeath, and Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary every year.

Nobody cared in government then.

Nobody in Government cared when 219 unmarked graves of children from the Bethany Homes in Mount Jerome were found.

Mother-and-baby homes were excluded from the Redress Scheme in 2005 as there was “no evidence of systematic or widespread abuse of children in those institutions”.
This is not a new attitude. When in 1946 Boys Town founder Father Edward Flanagan (who you may know from the Spencer Tracey movie about his life) toured Ireland, found out and spoke out against these abuses, he was attacked for it:
Speaking to a large audience at a public lecture in Cork’s Savoy Cinema he said, "You are the people who permit your children and the children of your communities to go into these institutions of punishment. You can do something about it." He called Ireland’s penal institutions "a disgrace to the nation," and later said "I do not believe that a child can be reformed by lock and key and bars, or that fear can ever develop a child’s character."

However, his words fell on stony ground. He wasn't simply ignored. He was taken to pieces by the Irish establishment. The then-Minister for Justice Gerald Boland said in the Dáil that he was “not disposed to take any notice of what Monsignor Flanagan said while he was in this country, because his statements were so exaggerated that I did not think people would attach any importance to them.”
For an extensive historical overview of the Tuan children's home, librarian and historian Liam Hogan has put together a timeline with historical documents.

In an initial reaction the Irish police, gardaí, has said that the Tuan burials are just remains of the Famine, nothing sinister.

Meanwhile Amnesty International has called for a full and urgent investigation:
“The Irish Government must not view this and other cases as merely historic and beyond its human rights obligations,” said John Dalhuisen.

The international human rights framework of law emerged during the period in which these children lived and died. If the home closed in 1961, it is possible that some of the deaths occurred at a time when the European Convention on Human Rights was in force. Even before then, Ireland was aware of the internationally agreed norms expected of it in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As Emer O'Toole's editorial in the Guardian and the comments on it show, there's a lot of anger and disbelief at these revelations, as well as a desire to know the truth:
Do not say Catholic prayers over these dead children. Don't insult those who were in life despised and abused by you. Instead, tell us where the rest of the bodies are. There were homes throughout Ireland, outrageous child mortality rates in each. Were the Tuam Bon Secours sisters an anomalous, rebellious sect? Or were church practices much the same the country over? If so, how many died in each of these homes? What are their names? Where are their graves? We don't need more platitudinous damage control, but the truth about our history.
posted by MartinWisse (117 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite

 
'Enormity.' Good use of the word.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:24 AM on June 6 [7 favorites]


I've been following this and it's just...well, every time you think we've hit the bottom insofar as the treatment of children and 'undesirable' mothers in Ireland is concerned you find out that it's just a ledge and there's still far, far deeper to go.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:26 AM on June 6 [17 favorites]


There was a letter a day or so ago to the Irish Times claiming that all of these deaths were just down to people not knowing about decent nutrition and this was all normal for a foundling home, so nothing to see here...etc., etc.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:27 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


In a septic tank. A septic tank like human waste! The people who did this are human monsters.
posted by FunkyHelix at 10:29 AM on June 6 [13 favorites]


.

x800
posted by mogget at 10:31 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


Back in 1918, a boy named Howard Loomis was abandoned by his mother at Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys, which had just opened a year earlier. Howard had polio and wore heavy leg braces. Walking was very difficult for him, especially when he had to go up or down steps.

Soon, several of the Home’s older boys were carrying Howard up and down the stairs.

One day, Father Flanagan asked Reuben Granger, one of those older boys, if carrying Howard was hard.

Reuben replied, “He ain’t heavy, Father… he’s m’ brother.

***

A year back, I had to help carry my brother with MS and he asked me if he was heavy. I'd been waiting all my life to use that line.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:32 AM on June 6 [75 favorites]


I guess it's all the guilt for doing evil shit like this that makes the Church so adamantly anti-abortion now.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:33 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]


Now a dedicated historian of the site, as a schoolgirl Corless recalls watching an older friend wrap a tiny stone inside a bright candy wrapper and present it as a gift to one of them.

“When the child opened it she saw she’d been fooled,” Corless says. “Of course I copied her later and I tried to play the joke on another little Home girl. I thought it was funny at the time.”

But later – years later – Corless realized that the children she taunted had nobody. “Years after I asked myself what did I do to that poor little girl that never saw a sweet? That has stuck with me all my life. A part of me wants to make up to them.”
.
posted by papafrita at 10:33 AM on June 6 [34 favorites]


In the US, a lot of political conservatives feel like the government shouldn't be in the business of social welfare programs, and that instead this sort of thing should be taken care of by religious charities and other nonprofit organizations.

This, right here, is why that cannot ever be allowed to happen.
posted by Sara C. at 10:35 AM on June 6 [134 favorites]


.
posted by Damienmce at 10:41 AM on June 6


I don't even know how to wrap my brain around this.
posted by rtha at 10:44 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


There was a letter a day or so ago to the Irish Times claiming that all of these deaths were just down to people not knowing about decent nutrition and this was all normal for a foundling home, so nothing to see here...etc., etc.

For the record in case anyone is wondering, 800 babies over 36 years comes out to a little over 22 children per year. Obviously the enormity of that number would depend on the population of the home over the years, but let's keep in mind that the total current population of Tuam, Galway, is ~8000 people. Even if every woman in town had a child out of wedlock at some point, that would still be a high rate of infant mortality.
posted by Sara C. at 10:45 AM on June 6 [12 favorites]


Jesus wept.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:50 AM on June 6 [9 favorites]


It seems that Ireland has been the center of widespread child abuse scandals - Magdalen homes, industrial schools. Certainly Ireland is not the only country where this has happened (the U.S. has had many child abuse scandals as well) but there seems to have been a lot of focus on Ireland as a place where institutionalized child abuse (as in industrial schools and orphanages) has been particularly widespread and woven into the fabric of everyday life. I wonder why this is? I mean from a scientific standpoint, not "OMG Irish people are child abusers" standpoint. (And I don't want my question to be a derail so I'm trying to phrase it neutrally)

Is it just religion? A particular expression of religion? Poverty? A legacy of colonialism? That Ireland just makes the news because it's an English-speaking country where it's easy for English-speaking reporters to find records, and this is a reporting bias?

I remember the Romanian orphanage crisis about 20 years ago, and the reason why there were so many abandoned children and so many institutions was that in a poor country with high fertility so many people couldn't afford to care for, or adopt, children. Was this the case in Ireland?
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:51 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


when you not only permit a criminal organization to flourish in your midst, but award it special status, and when you not only fail to hold its leader accountable, but kiss his ring instead, this is what you get.
posted by bruce at 10:52 AM on June 6 [23 favorites]


"...children, who because of their “sinful” origins were considered socially radioactive and treated as such..."

Yes, because that's precisely what Jesus said...
posted by notsnot at 10:55 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


It gets better, and by better, I mean more horrifying: children at homes like these were also used as a test pool for corporate vaccination trials:

Old medical records show that 2,051 children and babies in Irish care homes were given a one-shot diphtheria vaccine for international drugs giant Burroughs Wellcome between 1930 and 1936.

There is no evidence that consent was ever sought, nor any records of how many may have died or suffered debilitating side-effects as a result.

The scandal was revealed as Irish premier, Enda Kenny, ordered ministers to see whether there are more mass baby graves after the discovery that 800 infants may be buried in a septic tank outside a former mother and baby home in Tuam, Co. Galway.

posted by blue suede stockings at 10:55 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


It seems that Ireland has been the center of widespread child abuse scandals - Magdalen homes, industrial schools. Certainly Ireland is not the only country where this has happened (the U.S. has had many child abuse scandals as well) but there seems to have been a lot of focus on Ireland as a place where institutionalized child abuse (as in industrial schools and orphanages) has been particularly widespread and woven into the fabric of everyday life.

The massive social and political power the Catholic church had. Weirdly, this was also combined with the enormous power granted to parents (married, of course), so much so that we had to amend the constitution to actually grant some rights to children in abusive situations.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:57 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

I'm not a believer, but I hope sometimes that I'm wrong, and that the nuns and priests and monseigneurs and bishops and archbishops and cardinals and popes and gardai and politicians through decades and decades are spending an eternity wishing they had been drowned in the depth of the sea.

The church has no moral authority left to speak on anything, let alone morality and family life. None. Pack up the candlesticks, fold up the vestments, shutter the windows and put up the for sale signs. You're done.
posted by reynir at 10:57 AM on June 6 [26 favorites]


(It should be spelled Tuam -- with an M, not an N -- in the text. The Saw Doctors, who are from Tuam, have released a couple off songs tweaking or rebuking the Catholic hierarchy.)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:13 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


The compassion of Christ inspires, eh?

One might note that there are a ton of reform "camps" in the US (and out of the US, to avoid US laws) where nutters with "problem" children send 'em to be dealt with — usually by "church" people. There's a ton of abuse happening in these places, too, including beating that end in murder.

One can also look to parts of Africa and the East and see Christian and Muslim factions slaughtering one another in holy fury.

It's a sickness, a mental illness, IMO.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:14 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


"800 children were buried in a mass grave on the site, possibly inside a septic tank."

Never let it be said that the inventory of goods that the Church couldn't sell overseas, they didn't recycle. Bon Secours has such lovely flowers.
posted by markkraft at 11:17 AM on June 6


Just in case you're new to this topic, two recent films provide a visceral experience of the mothers in homes like this:
The Magdalen Sisters and Philomena. Both are available for streaming rental and purchase in U.S.

The first movie is not the tiniest bit relieved by happy stories. In addition to the fictional piece, the disk contains interviews with the sources used by writer/director Peter Mullan. The second film was, to my eyes, sentimental and minimizing. However Judi Dench helped me believe how someone's faith in the Church could withstand profound mistreatment.

Perhaps you're wondering "why didn't somebody do something?" It's a challenge going up against an established state religion. Here are folks who tried, with some success: The Justice for Magdalenes project's campaign to uncover the truth about the treatment of mother and kids extended from 2004 to 2013.
posted by Jesse the K at 11:17 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


The Redemption of Sinead O'Connor, from the Atlantic, 2012. It still upsets me that her career was destroyed in America because she dared to (imperfectly, undiplomatically, spectactularly) protest the culture of abuse in the Catholic church on live television. She was, of course, absolutely correct, as revelation upon revelation had shown.

My family background is Irish. For all the victims of the church:

.
posted by jokeefe at 11:18 AM on June 6 [56 favorites]


One might note that there are a ton of reform "camps" in the US (and out of the US, to avoid US laws) where nutters with "problem" children send 'em to be dealt with — usually by "church" people. There's a ton of abuse happening in these places, too, including beating that end in murder.

Of course there are, and it's horrific. But they are not the entire system. From the article I just linked: "As late as 2007, the Church controlled 93% of the schools in Ireland, giving most children no hope of escaping the often-sadistic system."
posted by jokeefe at 11:21 AM on June 6


Apparently, they are raising money for a memorial... and there may be other burial places, stilll to be found. They are having a hard time raising the funds, so if you are interested in helping with the survey, helping fund it, or helping fund the memorials, the people at Old Tuam Society would probably have the details for you.
posted by markkraft at 11:21 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


The 10th Regiment of Foot: "I guess it's all the guilt for doing evil shit like this that makes the Church so adamantly anti-abortion now."

And yet, what is the thing that both policies have in common? If you said "making life miserable for women", you get a MeFi No-Prize.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:23 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


I'm from Dublin but never had any real contact with Catholicism so it's always a bit weird reading stuff like this. It's like it happened in Ireland, but not an Ireland I had to live through. I know a lot of my friends and older relatives went to religious schools and their matter-of-fact accounts of beatings, molestation and religious indoctrination have a pervasive, terrible sameness about them. A struggle between a society-wide, deadened recollection of mass trauma and oppositional, aggressive denials thereof suffuses so much of Irish public (and private) life today that it's suppressing discussion of important contemporary topics, such as the corrosive effects on Ireland's body politic of unquestioningly becoming more of a corporatist tax-haven and money laundering clientist State and the development of an associated international pariah status. During the Cold War, Ireland assiduously cultivated a reputation as a small-yet-honest, unaffiliated peace and negotiation broker with relative neutrality with post-colonialist sensitivities. That got it a lot pull in Europe and internationally. It's long burned through those reserves, which makes the uncontrolled international spread of stories like these doubly alarming to Ireland's hegemonic clades.

I was reminded of how different Ireland use to be for some people a few weeks ago when the #800DeadBabies started trending and I mentioned this to an older Irish nurse who I knew was from the West of Ireland. And she off-handedly told me about "the dwarf" that her family "got from the Sisters", who arrived aged "12 or 13 or so", emaciated, "tiny and hobbling", unable to read and possibly mentally retarded, and who had been placed out of an orphanage or refuge with them to work basically as an indentured servant. "The dwarf" did their laundry and household chores for years, served as a house nanny for the children growing up, and after she was too old and infirm to be useful any more, was basically sent "back to the Sisters" and eventually placed in another institution to live out her remaining years.

She told me all of this, and more, without any apparent flicker of remorse, wonderment or puzzlement. For her, it was normative that of course, in those days in Ireland, you could get indentured servants to live with and work for you.

Meanwhile, the religious order that threw these babies into the septic tank, the Bon Secours, has an American branch that is resolutely refusing comment.
posted by meehawl at 11:24 AM on June 6 [46 favorites]


To think that in the 20th century a class of children was deliberately given up to want, malnutrition and suffering to a fatal degree. It's horrific. 20 deaths a year for 40 years.

The police guy that investigated the Jersey care home deaths was pilloried in the press and discredited but maybe his instincts were right. Scape-goated children = horrific child abuse.
posted by glasseyes at 11:24 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


So horrible.

By coincidence, yesterday I was looking at Project Gutenberg and came across a pamphlet called "Rules and Regulations for Governing Maternity Hospitals and Homes, compiled and published by the California State Board of Charities and Corrections," from 1922. I was marveling at how precise and specific the rules were ("All plumbing, drainage and other arrangements for the disposal of excreta and household waste shall be in accordance with the rules and regulations of the State Board of Health and local health ordinances!" "Toilets and hoppers shall be properly and adequately ventilated to the external air!") until I realized that the rules were written not to prescribe practice, but undoubtedly to correct problems that existed in previous homes for single mothers.

The world has never valued women and children. (Except when striving to protect the children as a way to punish the mothers.) It still doesn't. I just don't understand it.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:25 AM on June 6 [16 favorites]


It seems that Ireland has been the center of widespread child abuse scandals - Magdalen homes, industrial schools. Certainly Ireland is not the only country where this has happened (the U.S. has had many child abuse scandals as well) but there seems to have been a lot of focus on Ireland as a place where institutionalized child abuse (as in industrial schools and orphanages) has been particularly widespread and woven into the fabric of everyday life. I wonder why this is? I mean from a scientific standpoint, not "OMG Irish people are child abusers" standpoint. (And I don't want my question to be a derail so I'm trying to phrase it neutrally)

I think that you could find a lot of this stuff in the US if you looked at the pre-Civil Rights south, in particular. That Ta-Nehisi Coates Case for Reparations article seems to suggest that there were a bunch of homes and juvenile detention "farms" mostly used for black children - especially boys - where very gruesome and horrible things were done. And I've read other stories about similar places. It's not exactly the same thing, but it's also "let's sadistically take pleasure in hurting children from vulnerable social groups, and let's do it in an institutional setting systematically". Because it's obvious that this stuff wasn't just done by misguided people - it was done by people who got pleasure from enforcing cruel and violent rules on "bad" women and children.
posted by Frowner at 11:28 AM on June 6 [11 favorites]


To get a sense for how pervasive and evil the treatment of children was here's an anecdote: My sister teaches literacy classes in the evenings. She had one 50 something male student who was all that was left standing of his entire class. Everyone else had either committed suicide directly or basically drank or drugged themselves to death. An entire, fucking class.

And you still can't escape the Catholic church. I just went to my niece's first communion for which they did about umpteen hours a week of preparation in school time. So basically weeks of learning about sins, etc. and the joy of the church. In a state primary school that serves also non-Catholics.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:32 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Well, mudpuppie, I would say say rather that oppression manifests in gendered ways. It would be ridiculous to think that men don't also suffer. Life circumstances render a person more vulnerable at certain times, and pregnancy and childhood are two of those circumstances.
posted by glasseyes at 11:33 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I think that you could find a lot of this stuff in the US if you looked at the pre-Civil Rights south, in particular.

Or, you know. Indian schools, where this shit was still happening in the 70s.
posted by elizardbits at 11:36 AM on June 6 [46 favorites]


I'm normally not one for "we must do special things to the human body after death" but the detail of burials in a septic tank shocks me a little.

Also, this makes me think of the Dozier School for Boys in Florida, where they've also been discovering "lost" burials, but of dozens, not hundreds.
posted by immlass at 11:36 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


> I think that you could find a lot of this stuff in the US if you looked at the pre-Civil Rights south, in particular.

Or, you know. Indian schools, where this shit was still happening in the 70s.


Precisely. Every society finds someone to be an outcast. In some societies, where there are all different races or ethnicities, it's one of the ethnicities that gets the outcast status. In societies where everyone is the same race, it's one of the minority religions. In societies where everyone is the same race and religion, it's the transgressors of that religion.

Horrible no matter who does it. But everyone does do it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:39 AM on June 6 [12 favorites]


Back in 1918, a boy named Howard Loomis was abandoned by his mother at Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys, which had just opened a year earlier.

It's an even older story than that. The first telling of the "He ain't heavy" story dates back to 1884, from a book called "The Parables of Jesus" written by James Wells. In it, it is a little girl struggling with an infant child. This was republished in 1918 in Ralph Waldo Trine's "The Higher Powers of Mind and Spirit." It was the title of a column in Kiwanis magazine in 1924, and wasn't adopted as a slogan for Boy's Town until 1940.

There was a Howard Loomis, though. He was 16 in 1926, when he was adopted out of the home, and the newspapers called him "Crippled Boy of Father Flanagan's Home." Flanagan had gone to the newspapers with an appeal to find adults to adopt seven parent-less boys from his instutution, and all but Harold were adopted quickly. Flanagan wanted Omaha families to adopt the boys, so that they might get a high school education in the Omaha school system. Flanagan kept after the media, asking for stories about Loomis, to make sure he had a chance to go to high school too, describing his pleasant personality, his good spirits, and his musicianship, until he was adopted.

I don't know if there was a Granger or if he ever carried Loomis and repeated those inspirational lines. I know that Flanagan earnestly felt that every broken man was once a boy in need, and if you could help the boy in need you would keep the man from breaking. Even if Granger never carried Loomis, Flanagan did, giving him a home, and education, and doing what he could to give the boy a future.

I don't know what happened to Loomis, but I do think that if anybody was in a position to take an Irish Catholic institution to task for monstrous behavior toward those in need, it was the Irish Catholic priest Father Flanagan.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:41 AM on June 6 [22 favorites]


Unmarked graves, dirty needles, septic tanks, vaccine trials. The only way this could get worse is if the Church was actually, intentionally killing people.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:42 AM on June 6


Or, you know. Indian schools, where this shit was still happening in the 70s.

That's true, and I knew about it, and yet I didn't think of it. Racism in action in my own forgetting.
posted by Frowner at 11:43 AM on June 6 [13 favorites]


but there seems to have been a lot of focus on Ireland as a place where institutionalized child abuse (as in industrial schools and orphanages) has been particularly widespread and woven into the fabric of everyday life.

I assume this gets more attention than other issues because both the perpetrators and the victims are largely white, really. If you look at any kind of school or home run by the RCC to the alleged benefit of any nonwhite native population you will see all these vile crimes and so much more, but that's such an unfortunately commonplace and therefore somewhat unremarkable part of worldwide history that it doesn't stand out as much.
posted by elizardbits at 11:43 AM on June 6 [11 favorites]


I wonder why this is? I mean from a scientific standpoint, not "OMG Irish people are child abusers" standpoint.

As a lapsed Irish Catholic who's done only the smallest bit of reading, I think much of it comes down to the power of the Church to suppress this kind of disgusting shit for so long. In most of the rest of the West, institutions, be they churches, society clubs or government, lost their absolute authority and right to total unquestioning respect a long time ago (let's say The '60s for cliché's sake); the Church in Ireland, for whichever reason you like, kept theirs a lot longer which meant longer time to rot and longer time to become truly evil in spots.

Even if they've lost everything else, the abused still have their memories and the stink from this kind of thing has to catch someone's attention sooner or late. I hope. In addition, the guilt of those who knew or suspected but didn't or couldn't fight back means there are plenty of people waiting for a moment to reveal all. I think papafrita's comment captures that well.
posted by yerfatma at 11:47 AM on June 6 [5 favorites]


Lesbiasparrow, Meehawl, Frowner, yerfatma, and Empress - thank you. Those are the kind of answers I was thinking of - why pervasive, institutionalized child abuse occurs more in some places than others, and the US and Ireland seem to have more than their share. (And the victimization of black boys seems to have been a part and parcel of Jim Crow and the convict-leasing laws aka "slavery by another name.")

You get a particular group who is not only scapegoated, but thought to be an active menace to the fabric of society (unwed mothers, "sinful" children, Native Americans who keep their culture, black kids), then a powerful institution committed to getting rid of those "bad" elements, and add in poverty and illiteracy.

Elizardbits, that's a good point as well - that Ireland was basically scapegoating "its own" as opposed to an outcast minority (who are easier to forget about).

Some countries (or peoples or whatever cultural boundary) really do seem to treat their children better than others. And there are places that seem to pick out only some children to abuse and discard. The sociology behind this is compelling to me; if child abuse is to be ended, then looking at the societal factors - not just the individual family - is necessary, I think.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:51 AM on June 6


How does Christianity get perverted like this, by people who purport to be Christians? As a non-Christian person, I can't wrap my head around it.

Jesus preached to the poor and disenfranchised, he was all about foregiveness and raising up those who were impoverished, how does that beauty and understanding end up in mass graves?

Blessed are…
....the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
....those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
....the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
....those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
....the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
....the pure in heart: for they will see God.
....the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
....those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:51 AM on June 6 [10 favorites]


Today's church would have burned him at the stake.
posted by elizardbits at 11:53 AM on June 6 [13 favorites]


Horrible no matter who does it. But everyone does do it.

But on THIS scale? Think of the population of Ireland versus the number of babies found in this one home's grave.

The only way this could get worse is if the Church was actually, intentionally killing people.

I wouldn't be surprised, the way this story is going. Faith in the goodness of the sisters was the last part of my childhood religion I held onto for a long time. Certainly there were and are wonderful nuns out there still, many of them, but things like this show they are still cogs in a very broken system.

Can't wait to hear what the Pope has to say.
posted by sallybrown at 11:53 AM on June 6


Those are the kind of answers I was thinking of - why pervasive, institutionalized child abuse occurs more in some places than others, and the US and Ireland seem to have more than their share.

I highly doubt this is a provable statement.
posted by JPD at 11:54 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


The only way this could get worse is if the Church was actually, intentionally killing people.

I didn't link to it in the post, but disabled babies might have been deliberately been left to die while able children were given up for adoption (play the audio in the linked post).
posted by MartinWisse at 11:54 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


but hey, abort that baby and you're going straight to hell you godless whore!

ugh forever
posted by elizardbits at 12:02 PM on June 6 [23 favorites]


I'm not the originator of this thought, but I think there is a great deal of truth to it. This sort of thing, and the diving to suicice of the victims of famous rapists is just the Western way to do honor killings. Irish girl shames her father, send her to a Church run Gulag to be starved and worked to death. Girl shames the town by reporting her rape by the star High School football player, harass her into suicide. Women must die for the honor of their fathers and communities. The only difference is that in Pakistan they're more honest abut things.
posted by sotonohito at 12:06 PM on June 6 [41 favorites]


The massive social and political power the Catholic church had. Weirdly, this was also combined with the enormous power granted to parents (married, of course), so much so that we had to amend the constitution to actually grant some rights to children in abusive situations.

I suspect both of these were self-perpetuating survivals of responses to the Great Famine, in which Ireland lost 20-25% of its population to emigration and premature death.

The Church ran what were essentially concentration camps which ushered the truly impoverished who could not emigrate to miserable and ignominious but order-preserving deaths; and if a child in a family happened to die for any reason, no questions could be asked.
posted by jamjam at 12:09 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I'm not convinced child abuse/ neglect/ molestation is more common in the US and Ireland. In the US, the systematic coverup of Catholic priests abusing children and being sent to another parish was made very public. I think it's the publicity that's remarkable. Ireland was very, very poor until fairly recently, and poverty and scarcity always affect children and women 1st.

It's quite bizarre to me that Catholic institutions would so casually discard dead bodies, and I'm assuming these babies were baptized at birth. I grew up Catholic, but by middle school had some serious thoughts about hypocrisy and the Church being anti-women.

"bon secours" from French - good relief
posted by theora55 at 12:15 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Irish American here, with relatives in Co. Galway. I am also an American unwed mother who surrendered a child in the 60s and have been involved in adoption reform for many years. Things were bad in the US and Canada for unwed mothers and their children, but this is the most sickening story I have heard, although as another poster has pointed out, similar horrors happened at schools for Native Americans and First Nation People in the US and Canada. Canada also had the "Butterbox Baby" scandal, so called because babies who did not survived to be sold were found buried in butterboxes on the grounds of an unwed mother's home.

As to why this went on so long in Ireland, there are many reasons but the root causes are shame, silence, and a culture of clericalism. Poverty had little to do with how unwed mothers and illegitimate children were treated. The evils of living in a theocracy had everything to do with this injustice.

After 800 years of being persecuted for being Catholic, the Irish went too far when they won their freedom, became "more Catholic than the Pope" and treated Church and State as one unit. The Church was trusted with everything. So the Church runs the schools, and so much else, and Ireland became a land of everything swept under the rug, and if you did not talk about it, it did not happen or exist, even if right in front of your nose. This included anything to do with sex, which allowed all sorts of abuse to go on in schools, orphanages, homes for unwed mothers, and any other place the sickness of warped Catholic control reached. Father and the Nuns were never wrong; it was your fault no matter what.

I am so glad to see some of this ugliness finally coming to light. I hope people will keep talking about it, demanding answers, demanding justice for so many women and children abused and killed by silence and shame. Those fragile little bones cry out to be seen and named and mourned, and for this never to be done again. The Church and those evil nuns should be held fully accountable, and their black deeds held up to the cleansing light of day.
posted by mermayd at 12:15 PM on June 6 [21 favorites]


Women must die for the honor of their fathers and communities.

What I have never been able to understand is WHY? Why do women as a gender bear this burden? It's just been easier historically because we've been so powerless? There seems to be something more behind it than that. (Not that that comes close to resembling an answerable question...)

For some reason, lately I've been feeling a sea change is afoot for women. Maybe it's just residual hope from #YesAllWomen, but the tenor and size of the conversation seems to have changed, amplified by social media. I can feel some anger simmering out there that was hidden before.
posted by sallybrown at 12:16 PM on June 6 [12 favorites]


It's quite bizarre to me that Catholic institutions would so casually discard dead bodies

For Catholics, the soul is what's important. My mother was trained as a nurse in a Catholic hospital. They were taught to baptize stillborn babies, and then not care what happened to the corpses ('into the garbage', in her words). Baptism complete, soul in heaven, discard the meat suit.
posted by fatbird at 12:19 PM on June 6


Something that I think I knew but did not put together with contemporary Irish history: the English penal laws prevented Catholics from basically doing anything - getting an education, living certain places, being in government, owning land permanently rather than having a long lease, owning a horse valued over five pounds, teaching - and were in place through most of the 17th and 18th centuries. And of course, add in the tradition of government by English people, absentee landlords and various Irish aristocrats who had sworn loyalty oaths, and you're obviously going to have a corrupt and too strong church once you get the church back at all.

Just as colonization was going on outside of Europe, there was internal colonization of Ireland, Scotland, Eastern Europe and the remoter regions of each western country (Basque regions, for example). I feel like this is an essential thing to know about how capitalism gains ascendancy - that there is this long struggle by the core imperialist states to subdue areas within Europe.
posted by Frowner at 12:25 PM on June 6 [18 favorites]


And it was a long and bloody struggle, too. Not quite as bad as in the Americas, but with battles and mass killings.
posted by Frowner at 12:26 PM on June 6


Not to be overlooked is that Ireland has had an almost complete ban on abortion since 1861, and contraception was illegal until 1980. This is what happens when society both condemns a woman's reproductive choice and refuses to provide any resources for the inevitable resulting children. The so-called 'right to life' movement in the US is no different, as in most cases thier concern for the welfare of the fetus ends at the exact moment it's been safely delivered. You'd be hard pressed to find a supporter of Irish-style personhood amendments who also supports the Medicaid expansion or universal pre-K.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:27 PM on June 6 [27 favorites]


let's keep in mind that the total current population of Tuam, Galway, is ~8000 people

It should be noted that most of these places were in remote towns specifically so that they would be far away from the original homes of the women. Most of these young women most likely came from larger towns or cities, but were sent away to "hide their shame."
posted by corb at 12:31 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


It seems that Ireland has been the center of widespread child abuse scandals - ... . I wonder why this is? I mean from a scientific standpoint, not "OMG Irish people are child abusers" standpoint. (And I don't want my question to be a derail so I'm trying to phrase it neutrally)

My impression is that Ireland changed during the famine, that a relatively normal society turned in on itself and became superstitious, dark, and repressed.

My ancestry is a healthy mix of about six different European ethnicities. Everyone brought with them a few old world traditions or stories - with the exception of the two branches that came from Ireland. They erected a brick wall between their life in America and whatever they fled in Europe. It was not discussed, and nothing beyond their name was passed on. We don't even know the towns they came from.

I grew up thinking there was something spooky about the place.
posted by kanewai at 12:36 PM on June 6 [8 favorites]


I'm not convinced child abuse/ neglect/ molestation is more common in the US and Ireland. In the US, the systematic coverup of Catholic priests abusing children and being sent to another parish was made very public.

There's no great way to phrase it*, but I'd like to think this is true and that what's more common is the investigation and making things public.

* Because it implies this stuff is happening everywhere and the other places just don't admit to it/ find out.
posted by yerfatma at 12:38 PM on June 6


From another article:

Elderly locals recalled that the children attended a local school — but were segregated from other pupils and routinely bullied — until they were adopted or placed, around age 7 or 8, into church-run industrial schools that featured unpaid labor and abuse. In keeping with Catholic teaching, such out-of-wedlock children were denied baptism and, if they died at such facilities, Christian burial.

(Emphasis mine.)

No soul in heaven, per their own teachings. No comfort for the mothers.

I honestly cannot think of an organization more evil than the Catholic church.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:40 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


> Horrible no matter who does it. But everyone does do it.

But on THIS scale? Think of the population of Ireland versus the number of babies found in this one home's grave.


And think of the population of Australia vs. the number of Aboriginal children affected by the "Stolen generation", or the population of America vs. the number of children in reservation "schools", etc....

How does Christianity get perverted like this, by people who purport to be Christians? As a non-Christian person, I can't wrap my head around it.

It's because some people are just shits. Every religion - hell, any group - has its percentage of people that talk the talk but don't come anywhere close to walking the walk. And if those people get into a position of power within that group, then....

What I have never been able to understand is WHY? Why do women as a gender bear this burden? It's just been easier historically because we've been so powerless? There seems to be something more behind it than that.

The word you're looking for is "patriarchy".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:46 PM on June 6 [10 favorites]


Is that actually Catholic teaching, though, in terms of canon law? I don't doubt it was the local tradition, but the 1917 canon law has specifications about baptizing illegitimate children, which seems unlikely to exist if it was canon law that they weren't to be baptized.

I don't doubt it was the local tradition, but the Irish Catholic Church appeared to have had a maleficent nature that went beyond even the many issues the Catholic Church had elsewhere. I.e., the mass enslaving of 'improper' women under the authority of the state, etc.
posted by tavella at 12:53 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


In keeping with Catholic teaching, such out-of-wedlock children were denied baptism and, if they died at such facilities, Christian burial.

(Emphasis mine.)



Everywhere I've looked for confirmation of this, I've found nothing but denials that the Catholic church would withold baptism from a bastard child. And since reporters still fall for the myth that Orthodox Jews fuck through a sheet, I'm calling shenanigans on that detail.
posted by ocschwar at 12:55 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


This is precisely why the concept of separation of church and state is so damned important. The Founding Fathers probably weren't thinking of something exactly like this, of course. It's hard to imagine that anyone would.

Which is why I cringe every time I see the words "faith-based initiative" especially when it's proposed as some sort of panacea to the evils of government. It's not a solution, it's a problem in a different package.
posted by tommasz at 1:01 PM on June 6 [9 favorites]


How does Christianity get perverted like this, by people who purport to be Christians?

Power, corrupting absolutely, etc. Jesus had no power over anyone, except for his charisma. He owned no land, slaves, was not even married (well depending on who you ask).

The minute Christianity became the preferred religion of the aristocracy (an odd thing in and of itself) it was doomed to this kind of thing. Not that abuses don't take place in small cult-sized religions, but that they don't get to Inquisition scales without armies and governments behind them. The founding fathers figured this bit out and banned state religions, but there are many in this country who long for the feel of the Christian boot on their necks (or rather, the necks of everyone they dislike) and are trying to sneak it in by the back way.

The "why" of this baffles me as much as it does you. Power, or the illusion of same, must be a hell of an intoxicant.
posted by emjaybee at 1:07 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


It seems that Ireland has been the center of widespread child abuse scandals - Magdalen homes, industrial schools.

When the State was set up in the 20s it was set up as DeValera's own little fantasy Catholic land. Women and children had almost no rights in Ireland for decades and the Church was allowed to run roughshod over what they did have. The men who wrote that constitution also have a lot to answer for, not just the Church.
posted by fshgrl at 1:15 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


It seems that Ireland has been the center of widespread child abuse scandals - Magdalen homes, industrial schools.

Also Quebec: the Enfants Duplessis scandal comes to mind.

Something about Catholic seperatist regions ruled by non-Catholic governments. I wonder if Brittany had the same thing going.
posted by ocschwar at 1:19 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I think that you could find a lot of this stuff in the US

Canada, Residential schools for native children, at least into the 70s and 80s. Same time I was going to elementary school, a priest in a residential school chopped off part of a native boy's penis, having caught him masterbating. In the 70s FFS, OMGWTFBBQFCS!!

Incredibly, there is massive denial about these things in this country. Astounding ignorance of very recent history coupled with flabbergasting racism. Sick.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:20 PM on June 6 [5 favorites]


My impression is that Ireland changed during the famine, that a relatively normal society turned in on itself and became superstitious, dark, and repressed.

Ireland changed obliviously as a result of the famine, but not, I believe, in the way you've expressed. And the rise of the central power of the Catholic Church in Ireland is a very complex phenomenon. It's worth recalling that any central authority in Ireland was very weak for a long time - faction fighting and other outbursts of large scale violence were often really hard to control. As were priests by the bishops if they were in certain areas. (There is a good book on the rise of the Catholic Church as an authority in the 19th century that goes into it, but I cannot for the life of me remember the title or author.)

I think a lot of people would point to the wrong people surviving the war of independence and the civil war as part of the huge power awarded the church in the Republic's constitution as a greater factor. A republic established with James Connolly guiding it would have been very different that the one De Valera constructed.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:20 PM on June 6 [8 favorites]


The Mother and Baby homes, mostly as here run by Catholic organisations, were infamous and feared, intended more to punish women who had babies born out of wedlock, as well as their children, than support them, as is clear in the story of one Irish woman at another such institute, whose baby died shortly after being born and who wasn't allowed to even attend his burial

If someone posted a news story about this happening tomorrow, i wouldn't be surprised about any of these details existing in 2014.

And i mean really, would you? There's definitely a large contingent of people out there championing to bring back "the good old days", or maintain the status quo in places they still exist.
posted by emptythought at 1:25 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


Even if you're opposed to abortion for religious reasons, I cannot believe that any reasonable individual person would not see it as the lesser evil.
posted by schmod at 2:19 PM on June 6


Ireland changed obliviously as a result of the famine, but not, I believe, in the way you've expressed.

It's killing me that I can't remember my source! But I remember being impressed by an essay that looked at how societies can turn inwards and become more dogmatic and conservative after a trauma. The examples were Ireland, Egypt after getting trounced by Israel in less than a week in 1967, and the Jewish tribes after the exile in Babylon.


Of course, it's also possible that I'm combining multiple sources in my mind and imagining that it was one single source.
posted by kanewai at 2:34 PM on June 6


.
posted by newdaddy at 2:43 PM on June 6


I got into it with the principal of my Catholic high school over a "morality clause" they were demanding their teachers sign. The upshot of this "morality clause" was that gay teachers could not reveal their sexuality or their relationships to the students or parents. You can be gay and in love, but that love must be hidden under a bushel basket. He said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that when Donald Sterling says racist nonsense to his girlfriend that's one thing, but when those statements become public action has to be taken. I assume the action he is referring to is firing teachers who have the temerity to let their students know they are legally married. This is a scandal, apparently.

I have half a mind to e-mail him back and ask if this Catholic school would be willing to ammend the "morality clause" to include not burying children in septic tanks. I'd begrudgingly accept a yes if it was on paper.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 3:32 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


It's killing me that I can't remember my source! But I remember being impressed by an essay that looked at how societies can turn inwards and become more dogmatic and conservative after a trauma. The examples were Ireland, Egypt after getting trounced by Israel in less than a week in 1967, and the Jewish tribes after the exile in Babylon.

This rings a bell for some reason. I still think it's wrong, though, mainly because when you look at local histories of a lot of Irish areas, even in the post-famine era, you see that there's a running theme of the Catholic Church trying to exert control over certain areas and getting huge push back. Agrarian violence and membership of secret societies was one of these areas. The Land Wars of the 1880s and 90s were not enthusiastically received by the church hierarchy, who were themselves worried that this would also cause issues for English Catholics and who were keen toe remake the image of tIrish Catholics as not seditious subjects. Didn't work though - rural Ireland in the late 19th century can be at times a very radical place.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:22 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


What I have never been able to understand is WHY? Why do women as a gender bear this burden? It's just been easier historically because we've been so powerless?

EmpressCallipygos touched on it, but, yeah, the answer is classical old school dictionary-definition patriarchy.

The idea is that the male head of household's responsibility is to rule the family unit, and everyone under him has the responsibility to hew to various moral codes. Anyone acting out of turn in a way that attracted negative attention toward the household would be punished. Also, the role of daughters within this system as social currency, and the need for clear lines of paternity, is probably the reason for Honor Killings (and the like) specifically as a female punishment.

There were different punishments for subordinate men, of course. And if you were male under that system, you had the chance to someday become the patriarch.
posted by Sara C. at 4:24 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


How would you even get a corpse in the septic tank? Those must have been some toilets.
posted by dr_dank at 4:29 PM on June 6


kanewai, I would be interested if you are eventually able to remember the source you mentioned.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:49 PM on June 6


What I have never been able to understand is WHY? Why do women as a gender bear this burden? It's just been easier historically because we've been so powerless? There seems to be something more behind it than that.

The word you're looking for is "patriarchy".


The wikipedia entry on Patriarchy has a pretty good history section with more details on how the system developed over time:

Anthropological evidence suggests that most prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies were relatively egalitarian, and that patriarchal social structures did not develop until many years after the end of the Pleistocene era, following social and technological innovations such as agriculture and domestication. According to Robert M. Strozier, historical research has not yet found a specific "initiating event". Some scholars point to about six thousand years ago (4000 BCE), when the concept of fatherhood took root, as the beginning of the spread of patriarchy.

However James DeMeo argues that a specific initiating event does exist: the geographical record shows that climate change around 4000 BCE led to famines in the Sahara, Arabian peninsula and what are now the Central Asian deserts which then resulted in the adoption of warlike, patriarchal structures in order to secure food sources:

"Famine, starvation and mass-migrations related to land-abandonment severely traumatised the originally peaceful and sex-positive inhabitants of those lands, inducing a distinct turning away from original matrism towards patristic forms of behaviour."

Domination by men of women is found in the Ancient Near East as far back as 3100 BCE, as are restrictions on a woman's reproductive capacity and exclusion from "the process of representing or the construction of history". With the appearance of the Hebrews, there is also "the exclusion of woman from the God-humanity covenant".
(emphasis mine)

Our entire global history is literally written around it.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:13 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


I decided to consult with Professor Google and came up with a very interesting paper on the influence of Jansenism on Irish Catholicism (paper opens in a Word document). Quoted in the paper: "...with only a minority of Irish men and women marrying, Joseph Lee surmised, “Sex, therefore, must be denounced as a satanic snare, in even what had been its most innocent pre-famine manifestations. Sex posed a far more severe threat than the landlord to the security and status of the family. Boys and girls must be kept apart at all costs.” The Church in Ireland also vehemently opposed labor unions; they seemed to have a general idea that poor people should suffer.

Triggerfinger: this paper I'm reading notes how extreme sexual repression in Ireland was able to put down such deep roots largely because of poverty, both pre-and-post-Famine. I haven't heard of James De Meo before, but his idea sounds interesting. I wonder if less hunger and disease = less need to control women and children because there is less of a horrible feeling of being on edge all the time?
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:15 PM on June 6


And here's another article I found because it was referenced in the paper I posted above: Origins and Legacies of Irish Prudery: Sexuality and Social Control in Modern Ireland by Tom Inglis.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:19 PM on June 6


I would take the DeMeo hypothesis with a gigantic pile of salt. Just googling James DeMeo, almost all of the hits are for weird woo woo stuff that is well outside the mainstream of research.

Even his personal website is full of crazy and not the "James DeMeo is the T.E. Lawrence Professor of Middle Eastern Anthropology at Totally Legit U..." sort of thing you usually find on academics' personal websites.

That said in reading this rebuttal of the theory, it sounds like some anthropologists are considering ecological pressures as one of the reasons that patriarchy sprung up in the way that it did. The problem with DeMeo's hypothesis is in his particular claim that it sprung up where it did and when it did, as well as huge issues with his data and his approach. So he's maybe not entirely wrong, though however it is he actually got to his hypothesis is bad science.
posted by Sara C. at 5:35 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


Horrible no matter who does it. But everyone does do it.

But on THIS scale? Think of the population of Ireland versus the number of babies found in this one home's grave.

The only way this could get worse is if the Church was actually, intentionally killing people.

I wouldn't be surprised, the way this story is going. Faith in the goodness of the sisters was the last part of my childhood religion I held onto for a long time. Certainly there were and are wonderful nuns out there still, many of them, but things like this show they are still cogs in a very broken system.


The blue has covered sort of thing before, albeit under a different name and for different reasons, namely profit.
posted by echolalia67 at 5:51 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


reynir: ""But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.""

Now that's a shameful waste of a perfectly good millstone. Ordinary rocks in burlap sacks would be better.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:47 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


Horrible no matter who does it. But everyone does do it.

Not "everyone." People who hold power in pathologically unequal societies, yes, no matter where those societies are. But there are plenty of groups who are almost always the victims in these scenarios, and others who are almost always the perpetrators. Erasing that distinction does a huge disservice to a lot of oppressed people.
posted by jaguar at 9:01 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


Not "everyone." People who hold power in pathologically unequal societies, yes, no matter where those societies are. But there are plenty of groups who are almost always the victims in these scenarios, and others who are almost always the perpetrators. Erasing that distinction does a huge disservice to a lot of oppressed people.

Dude, I didn't mean "every individual" when I said "everyone", I meant "every group". I believe it was clear from the context of my statement that I meant precisely what you said, which is every society and every group does this. Because they do.

But apparently that wasn't clear, so no, I did not mean that every individual person does this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Dude, I didn't mean "every individual" when I said "everyone", I meant "every group".

That is what I thought you meant, and I still don't agree. Especially when talking about institutional abuse, since a group needs to have enough power, money, and social capital to set up an institution that then abuses others.

I may have missed examples, but I think that every example in this thread has been colonizing ethnic groups abusing minority ethnic groups or institutions run by men abusing women. There have not, as far as I know, been massive campaigns of institutional abuse by African-Americans toward White Americans, or by women toward men. Isolated incidents, sure, but claiming that all groups have access to the kind of power that would even allow them to conduct abuse on this scale is erasing real power disparities.
posted by jaguar at 9:30 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


(I just realized my first comment may have come across as "Not All Men," which was not at all my intent and probably pushed buttons I didn't mean to. Sorry about that.)
posted by jaguar at 9:32 PM on June 6


How... I just can't understand how people can do these things to each other.

Has the Pope commented on this at all?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:37 PM on June 6


I don't understand anything about this. How can there be no criminal investigation happening? Some of the adults involved would still be alive. How can no one even be checking to see how many children are really buried there? I understand that the church is often immune to public outcry but I wouldn't expect that the local government would be.
posted by gerstle at 11:54 PM on June 6


Disclosure: both of my parents are from Rural Ireland. My mom was born in 1939, my dad was born in 1924. So much of this can be placed at the foot of extreme economic and class inequity post civil war.

My mother describes life in her small town as one where the focus of your neighbors attention to you family life was extremely intrusive with a sense of your perceived sins constantly being assessed and re-calculated.The power structure from top to bottom was as follows: factory owner-shopkeepers-farmers-factory workers-farm hands-"Travelers". Never stray outside your own social group or woe be unto you, the Home being the exact kind of woe you'd be getting.

My mother's parents were in an arranged marriage; despite being dirt poor, both families wanted in ensure that their property would remain in the hands of themselves and a select few other farming families in the area. You kept to your own or you suffered the consequences - one of my uncles was run out of the county by his father, my grandfather, for marrying a girl whose family was from the factories. He and my aunt were welcomed back into the family fold a year or two later. They were lucky.

The "good" families gave at least one son or daughter, perhaps one of each, to the church to join the priests or the nuns at 15 or 16. Which order that child would be accepted to was indicative of the status of the family. The teenager in question didn't have a whole lot of choice of in the matter; the family said it was to happen, and it happened. It was also normal for the parish priest to announce how much each family had given as an offering during the mass service and to shame them into giving more money to the church.

So I'm horrified but not surprised. You add in the regular problems with a state sanctioned religion, plus grudges and prejudices that go back generations, plus people who have had their entire lives orchestrated by the church and community leaders and know no other way of living - this was bound to happen sooner or later.
posted by echolalia67 at 12:12 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


I'm sure that some aspect of this is rooted in Irish culture and history, and in the historic relationship between Ireland and the Catholic church. And all societies have examples of the systemic abuse of children in 'homes' of any kind (ie Indian Residential schools, here in Canada, as Five Fresh Fish has noted).

But it's also much more universal. It's about controlling women; forcing them to bear any and all children they conceive and then taking those children from them, forcing them to leave them behind knowing that they will be abused and starved and killed. Labeling the children, as well as the mothers, as 'dirty', 'corrupted', 'sinful'. It's designed to shame and abuse women and their children, who are seen as the literal embodiment of the girl's 'sin', and thus as not quite human, certainly not a child who has a right to care.

This, however carefully hidden, is what lies at the heart of the 'pro-life' position: when we are triumphantly returned to a world in which every woman is forced to bear every child she conceives we will also return to a world in which illegitimate children are routinely treated this way, because their only purpose is to serve as a punishment for their mothers, and once they are born this work is done, and they can be disposed of.
posted by jrochest at 1:24 AM on June 7 [11 favorites]


I may have missed examples, but I think that every example in this thread has been colonizing ethnic groups abusing minority ethnic groups or institutions run by men abusing women. There have not, as far as I know, been massive campaigns of institutional abuse by African-Americans toward White Americans, or by women toward men. Isolated incidents, sure, but claiming that all groups have access to the kind of power that would even allow them to conduct abuse on this scale is erasing real power disparities.

Ah, that is a more fair clarification - yes, I did mean every group that has had power at some point anywhere in the world. (Although, spring boarding off one of your examples - there may not have been institutional abuse by African-Americans towards white Americans, but there certainly are instances of one group a using another in Africa itself....but you get my point.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:35 AM on June 7


I honestly cannot think of an organization more evil than the Catholic Church.

Have you, um, tried? I'm feeling defensive but the Taliban and Boko Haram come to mind. If we're just having fun with hyperbole, I'd say Comcast. If you want to argue that the KKK was really just misunderstood, I'm all ears.

Obviously, I'm not saying this isn't soul-sucking awful, just advocating for some perspective.
posted by kat518 at 5:20 AM on June 7 [9 favorites]


echolalia67 wrote:"My mother's parents were in an arranged marriage; despite being dirt poor, both families wanted in ensure that their property would remain in the hands of themselves and a select few other farming families in the area."

Interesting. My grandfather's sister was in a similar arranged marriage in rural Ireland in the early 1900s. I was shocked when I found this out. She had gone to America, worked to send for all her brothers who left Ireland never to return. Her father, my great-grandfather, arranged a marriage with another local farmer down the road, and sent for her to come home. The conditions for this marriage were written up in a legal document my cousins still have, and they included the old man living with them on the farm until his death, eating the same food as the rest of the family, and if the conditions were met, my great aunt Brigid and her husband would inherit the right to work the farm. Until Ireland became its own country, they did not even own the land but were sharecroppers.

I had no idea this was a common thing. I also agree with the rest of echolalia's post, and add that a lot of the concept of everyone minding everyone's business and shaming those who did not carried over to Irish Americans.
posted by mermayd at 6:29 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


There used to be jokes about infant burials at Catholic institutions, places where the nuns' illegitimate children were buried. Now I think this was an unacknowledged truth dressed up as a joke, like WW2 stories about the fate of Jews.

If this had been imposed by one ethnic group upon another it would rightly be described as genocide. What are we to call this? Similar crimes were blamed on xenophobia, classism, whateverism. Now those words look like excuses. People don't do horrible things out of ideology; they do them because of the black hole of fatigue and hate and despair that lies at the heart of us all.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:02 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Have you, um, tried? I'm feeling defensive but the Taliban and Boko Haram come to mind.

Neither have the reach nor the influence of the RCC, nor have they benefited from 2,000 years of oppressive hegemony on the backs of indigenous populations across the entire world. They do not influence regressive government policy in hundreds of countries in the name of goodness and righteousness. Nor will they ever, ever have that kind of power. Ever.
posted by elizardbits at 9:10 AM on June 7 [9 favorites]


it'd be really neat if this discussion didn't get diluted by yet another go-round of teh Catholic Church all over the world is evil, especially when there are probably other factors unique to the nation in question, just like there are probably unique-to-American-Catholics factors about other abuses the church has done here
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Archaeology, the Tuam Workhouse & St. Mary's Mother & Baby Home
posted by Flitcraft at 11:36 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Feminist Ire blog post: No country for young women: Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland
posted by cadge at 12:48 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


Remembering Ireland's Architecture of Containment (PDF) by James Smith.

From the essay: this essay underscores the regulatory function of an institutional system that supported the State's postcolonial nativist morality. In other words, the existence of such sites of confinement functioned as a constant reminder of the social morals deemed appropriate in post-independence Catholic Ireland and of the consequences awaiting transgressors of that morality.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:23 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Do not say Catholic prayers over these dead children.

This. So much this.
posted by mlis at 9:00 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


Catholic Church, you never disappoint. By the way, you know who else kept meticulous administrative records of their crimes?
posted by mlis at 9:10 PM on June 7


jaguar: "That is what I thought you meant, and I still don't agree. Especially when talking about institutional abuse, since a group needs to have enough power, money, and social capital to set up an institution that then abuses others.

I may have missed examples, but I think that every example in this thread has been colonizing ethnic groups abusing minority ethnic groups or institutions run by men abusing women. There have not, as far as I know, been massive campaigns of institutional abuse by African-Americans toward White Americans, or by women toward men. Isolated incidents, sure, but claiming that all groups have access to the kind of power that would even allow them to conduct abuse on this scale is erasing real power disparities.
"

I don't understand your examples. But there are plenty of examples of minority and/or disadvantaged groups finding a category of "other" within their own circles to be an appropriate target for abuse.
posted by desuetude at 11:26 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


But there are plenty of examples of minority and/or disadvantaged groups finding a category of "other" within their own circles to be an appropriate target for abuse.

I'm trying to make sure that we don't let people off the hook with an "Oh, well, that's just how humans are," because I don't think that's true. I think groups that hold themselves as superior due to skin color, gender, religion, or wealth, and that reinforce that superiority by oppressing others, commit atrocities like this on a much grander scale than groups who have been denied that power.

I agree that this is not somehow unique to Catholicism, or to Ireland, but I think it's a mistake to shrug it off as normal human events. A legacy of colonialism, white supremacy, and misogyny tends to drive these sorts of abuses, and I think it's important for people who are in the ethnic/national category of colonizer, the racial category of white, or (and/or) the gender category of male to realize that we have benefited from this sort of abuse at the expense of much more vulnerable populations, and not to delude ourselves that our abuses are somehow balanced out by (non-existent) abuses perpetrated upon us by those marginalized groups, or by (not nearly as horrific) abuses done by more-disadvantaged groups to even-more-disadvantaged groups.

It's not like Native Americans would have been likely to annihilate themselves, after centuries of rape, torture, and exile, with quite the spectacular cruelty that white colonizers did, or that Africans would have worked quite so hard to drag themselves across an ocean in order to rape, abuse, and kill each other without some European intervention, or that women would have killed 800 young girls and their babies without massive intervention from a male-led church.
posted by jaguar at 12:29 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]


The "good" families gave at least one son or daughter, perhaps one of each, to the church to join the priests or the nuns at 15 or 16. Which order that child would be accepted to was indicative of the status of the family. The teenager in question didn't have a whole lot of choice of in the matter; the family said it was to happen, and it happened.

I've often wondered if that accounted for at least some of the cruelty doled out by some priests and nuns. There is a question of "how could someone who chose to devote their life to God do such things to children?" but often there was no vocation, they were forced into the role. I wonder how bitter a person would be who was denied a normal life, a family, a life outside an institution. My headmistress at Grammar School was a nun and was very harsh (not physically abusive, just very cold and scary). We heard that she was stunningly beautiful in her youth but was wayward and used to sneak out of the house to go to dances, so she was sent to the convent. I wonder what that would do to a person.

This story is tragic and I'm glad there's going to be an enquiry. Although apparantly Corless herself has said the septic tank aspect of the story may have been misrepresented.
posted by billiebee at 2:59 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]


I'm trying to make sure that we don't let people off the hook with an "Oh, well, that's just how humans are," because I don't think that's true.

I don't think anyone is trying to "let people off the hook", just avoid the implication that one group is more evil than anyone else.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:06 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]


Tuam babies: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin calls for inquiry.

Really heartening to see him call for a wider investigation on the grounds that what happened in one home will have happened in a lot of them.
posted by immlass at 8:32 AM on June 8


I don't think anyone is trying to "let people off the hook", just avoid the implication that one group is more evil than anyone else.

Look, I've seen "They would have done it to us" used to justify all kinds of racist cruelty. It was very jarring to see it coming up in a progressive comment rightly pointing out that the Catholic Church is not alone in its cruelty, because it usually comes followed by a defense of white privilege of the White Man's Burden variety. I understand (and agree with) the original intent of the comment, that massive human-rights abuses happen all over the world, but it's important not to over-correct into an argument that strips those abuses of their context. Native Americans did not steal white European children from their families; Native Americans are not raping whites with impunity. Africans did not steal 12.5 million white westerners and enslave, rape, and torture them over 200 years and then continue raping and abusing them for another couple hundred. Poor Irish women did not kill 800 rich Catholic men and their children and discard their bodies in septic tanks.

I do believe there's a collective human responsibility to stand up to these abuses and to stop them from happening, but I don't think it's helpful or in any way just to spread the blame around so far that it obscures who the perpetrators are.
posted by jaguar at 8:52 AM on June 8 [7 favorites]


I'm the one who introduced that tangent, jaguar, so I'll fall on that sword and apologize - that DEFINITELY wan't my intent.

What I was trying to stave off was comments that paint the entire RCC - past, present, and future - with a broad, all-dismissive brush, like bruce's, which come up far, far too much in threads which discuss issues laden with a much, much more complex range of causes than "lol Pope and catholic church is evil".

My point in saying that a lot of groups with power have fallen prey to subjugating other groups was not to justify cruelty in the slightest. My point was to say that there are plenty of cases of racist/sexist/moralist cruelty in which the Catholic church hasn't been involved, so maybe the cruelty is coming from some other place and maybe it's worth finding that out rather than falling back on the same tired "the church is criminal" statements or the same tired "I thought the church is infallible yuk yuk" jokes (not that anyone has made such "infallible" jokes, but I'm pretty sure, given time, they'd turn up...)

Again, I don't want to excuse cruelty. I just think it's more important to find out where the true cause of such cruelty lies. And as long as the world believes that any one group has more of a lock on cruelty than any others, and that we can point fingers at one group while turning a blind eye to cruelties other groups may have done, we will never figure out the cause, and what's worse is we may seed the ground for further cruelty in the future.

And I'd better get out of this thread, actually.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:30 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]


As a Catholic who it appalled and disgusted by this and other atrocities committed by the Church over the years, as a former unwed mother, and an Irish American, I would love to see the Church and its hierarchy step up and take responsibility for its own sins rather than trying to excuse and weasel out of it by blaming everything and everyone else. Yes horrible things have been done by others that have nothing to do with the Catholic Church, and those who did those things need to own and admit them, but this particular horror is on the hands of the Irish Catholic Church, and needs to be acknowledged as such by them if there is to be any justice and healing.

Just as with the pedophile scandal, the buck has to stop somewhere, and that somewhere is with Church hierarchy who covered these things up and allowed them to go on rather than face "scandal". I would like to hear them say, to quote the Catholic Mass, that they have sinned " though their fault, through their fault, through their most grievous faults". Admit their culpability , investigate it,help the legal authorities, put safeguards in place that it does not happen again, and be sorry and ask forgiveness of the souls they have damaged and destroyed. No more excuses, just honesty and pure contrition. They would gain much more respect that way, than in trying to minimize the harm, shift the blame, and discredit the whistleblowers. One child buried in an unmarked grave or a septic tank with no rites or mourning is too many. There are as many sinners on the altar and in the convents as in the pews, and they need to admit it. The sins and horrors of the past will continue to fester in darkness until this happens. And Catholics will continue to leave.
posted by mermayd at 9:52 AM on June 8 [3 favorites]


(EmpressCallipygos, I favorited your last comment because I 100% agree with it, not because I'm happy you're leaving the thread.)
posted by jaguar at 11:00 AM on June 8


Nuns apparently tried to stop rescuers reaching trapped children in a Cavan orphanage fire in 1943

We were being blocked by the nuns," she said. "They locked the doors and wouldn't allow anyone in." A local shopkeeper eventually broke down the orphanage's heavy wooden doors

("One of the reasons given why the children were not evacuated in time was that the nuns did not want the girls to be seen in their night clothes")

"Duradh liom agus creidim an té a dúirt liom é. Gur ceann de na fathanna nár tugadh na páistí amach ón áit ná nach raibh na mna rialta ag iarraidh go mbeidh siad feicithe agus feisteas oíche orthu." Mícheál Holmes - Craoltóir

I imagine there are going to be a lot more stories to come out.
posted by Flitcraft at 3:22 PM on June 8


I couldn't even make it through the summary of that big investigation into the Christian Brothers schools and affiliated horrors, that they put out a few years back. Now this.
posted by thelonius at 6:26 PM on June 8


Just as with the pedophile scandal, the buck has to stop somewhere, and that somewhere is with Church hierarchy who covered these things up and allowed them to go on rather than face "scandal".

This, so much this.

I couldn't even make it through the summary of that big investigation into the Christian Brothers schools and affiliated horrors

I was in hospital last year with one of the actual Boys of St Vincent.

His life was destroyed by those evil motherfuckers. Their actions make me want to believe in their God just so I can believe that they truly will burn in hell for all eternity.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:35 AM on June 9


Tuam babies: Irish government announces commission of investigation into homes.
posted by immlass at 8:50 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


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