But, we are told, it wasn’t the church, or it wasn’t the church alone, or the church was
just following orders adhering to the norm, or it was poverty and wars and the drink, or no one else wanted these children and it was very kind of the church to take them in, or you’re just a pack of bigoted secularists so you are. An avowedly Catholic blog runs through them all, one after the other.
The story of the home run by the Catholic sisters of the Bon Secours has hit the UK press after a resulting Irish media storm.
It has predictably whipped up anti-Catholic outrage and sentiment amongst the small clique of Irish secularists who seem to inhabit Twitter, lurking to pounce on anyone who dares to say anything less than condemnatory about the Catholic Church in Ireland.
It may be predictable, but is it wrong? I can’t see the wrongness. The Catholic church had and continues to have huge pretensions to tell everyone in Ireland what to do in great and intrusive detail. Why should they not be held to a very high moral standard? Why should wholesale cruelty to and neglect of children the state hands over to their care for a fee not be greeted with anger?
The blogger goes on to squander many paragraphs on comparative irrelevancies – the mass grave, the septic tank, the unconsecrated ground, and only then get to the real issue: the neglect and the monstrously high death rate. She gets to it to minimize it.
The death rates from neglect, malnutrition and preventable diseases easily treated with antibiotics are undoubtedly shocking. No-one seeks to excuse them. With that in mind, the death rates in Tuam seem to be consistent with the death rates of illegitimate children throughout Ireland as a whole, which were 3 or 4 times that of legitimate children and double the death rates of illegitimate children in England and Wales.
Ireland was in the grip of poverty, as Anglo-Irish Catholic tweep @dillydillys has pointed out, rural Irish society was ruthless compared with our comfortable armchair perspective. Life was tough during the lean years of the economic wars between Britain and the Free State.
No. It’s notorious that in the Industrial “Schools” the nuns ate the very best food while the children ate small amounts of cheap nasty horrible food. This is not just a matter of national poverty. The church had money, because it extorted it from the people. The church got rich and accumulated real estate. The church got money from the state for taking care of the children and babies in question. Also, as I mentioned, the church takes itself to be the moral authority for all of Ireland and all the world; it doesn’t get to fall back on the low standard that applies to Just Humans Doing Their Best In Hard Times.
This is not to deny abuses or shocking treatment, but to point the blame solely at the church alone is too simple.
Reports from 1929 show that a special maternity ward for the unmarried mothers was added to the Home in Tuam. The reason for this is that married women and paying customers at the local district hospital in Connacht were unwilling to share their hospital facilities with the ‘misfortunates’. They wanted segregation. This proposal was opposed by a priest, Canon Ryder who wanted to find accommodation for these mothers in other hospitals.
This moving of the mothers to a separate institution lacking trained staff and facilities would have undoubtedly contributed to infant and maternal mortality rates.
Society and state wanted these women to disappear and colluded with the Church who were willing to provide institutions. A sanctioned burning of library books portraying unmarried mothers in a positive light took place in Galway in 1928. A ratepayers meeting in Portumna said that no additional burden should be placed upon married parents who already had enough to do with the raising on their own children and that the state must step in to act.
And what was the chief source of those attitudes? The Catholic church whose “teachings” pervaded all of life in Ireland at the time.