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Another Horrifying Story About the Catholic Church

The first part of this story is old, but the full understanding of what happened is new. Decades ago the bodies of nearly 800 babies were found in a septic tank at a place called The Home, a facility for unwed mothers and their babies, near Galway, Ireland.

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.”

So how did all those babies die? From utter neglect, apparently.

According to documents Corless provided the Irish Mail on Sunday, malnutrition and neglect killed many of the children, while others died of measles, convulsions, TB, gastroenteritis and pneumonia. Infant mortality at the Home was staggeringly high.

“If you look at the records, babies were dying two a week, but I’m still trying to figure out how they could [put the bodies in a septic tank],” Corless said. “Couldn’t they have afforded baby coffins?”…

According to Irish Central, a 1944 local health board report described the children living at the Home as “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” and with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.”

There are so many elements to this story that are appalling. First, the shunning of these women and their children almost makes one sick. The treatment they then received under the care of an order of nuns is just as nauseating. With all the wealth and power of the Catholic Church, they couldn’t afford to provide proper nutrition and medical care to these children? And when they died, they were just thrown into a mass grave? Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic himself, is horrified:

Let us call this what it is: a concentration camp with willful disregard for the survival of its innocent captives, a death camp for a group of people deemed inferior because of the circumstances of their birth. When we talk of mass graves of this kind, we usually refer to Srebrenica or the crimes of Pol Pot. But this was erected in the name of Jesus, and these despicable acts were justified by his alleged teaching.

“Whatever you do to the least of these, my brethren, you do unto me also.” Remember that? Apparently the Catholic Church doesn’t.

Comments

  1. troll says

    But this was erected in the name of Jesus, and these despicable acts were justified by his alleged teaching.

    This line is interesting. Is Sullivan expressing doubt about the historocity of Jesus, or is he playing No True Scotsman?

    (Of course we know it’s the latter.)

  2. raven says

    Xpost from Pharyngula:

    The babies and children were buried in a mass grave, not in a real cemetery, and with no tombstones or markers.

    Catholic teaching at the time said children born to unmarried mothers could not be buried in “consecrated” ground. Consecration means a black robed magician called a “priest” cast a spell over it making it suitable for dead bodies.

    1. Even after they were dead, these victims were treated as subhuman.

    2. This is the RCC punishing the newborn for the “sins” (if any), of the parents. The kids had no say in who or where they were born.

    These days we humans don’t do this very often. And when it happens, most of us, especially the ones who aren’t xians, consider it a huge wrong.

    3. This is a classic example of the xian high moral ground. It occupies a position down around where Hell would be, if Hell existed.

    Did you know all morality comes from god? It is a good thing it doesn’t, or the earth would be one huge ball of absolute misery.

  3. raven says

    But it’s OK, none of them were aborted!.

    This is an example of post-third trimester abortions.

    The RCC doesn’t have a problem with that.

  4. Olav says

    Ed:

    Decades ago the bodies of nearly 800 babies were found

    Actually, they were just recently found… ;-)

    But yes, it is more proof, if any were still needed, that the church should be dismantled and its leaders locked up for crimes against humanity.

  5. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    I am sick, sad and angry.

    And not in the least bit surprised.

  6. colnago80 says

    Par for the course for the Raping Children Church, the greatest criminal conspiracy in the history of the world. As for Andrew Sullivan, I agree with #2, the fact that he remains a member of this gang of cutthroats doesn’t say much for him.

  7. D. C. Sessions says

    Ed, some of those “babies” were as much as nine years old. How they can tell the difference between an emaciated 9yo and a somewhat less abused 7yo I don’t know.

    And since some things call for more than prose, I remind y’all of:

  8. timmmmm says

    After what the Irish people went through while the British occupied their country, they finally gained independence and then set up this system of slave labor and the institutional abuse (physical, mental and sexual) of their own citizens. It truly boggles the mind.

  9. says

    @ timmmmm

    This kind of thing wasn’t limited to Ireland. The Magdalen Laundries were present in Australia as well. I didn’t even know this until I watched a murder mystery set in Melbourne in the 1920s.

    I’m sure that we can find analogous cases in the US. The Magdalen Laundries operated here, but were (apparently) less brutal. Given the social and religious policy of treating unwed mothers as less than human and their children even more (less?) so, it’s unsurprising that they were treated so badly. Dehumanizing the “other” is the first step to true barbarism.

  10. raven says

    I’m sure that we can find analogous cases in the US.

    You can.

    xpost from Pharyngula:

    I knew one Irish guy who grew up in that era, my friend’s father. He spent time in a Catholic orphanage, not because he was illegimate. His family was poor, had 12 kids, and simply couldn’t feed them all. (Which explains why we invented birth control and use it religiously.)

    1. He grew up stunted from malnutrition. He is small and slight framed. His kids are all big boned and tall.

    2. He got TB from overcrowding. At that time there was no treatment. You either got over it or died from it.

    He ended up an atheist. And BTW, this RCC orphanage was near….New York City, USA.

  11. colnago80 says

    Re #15

    Cue in the blog’s resident physics professor and math department chairman who has the no true Scotsman shtick patented.

  12. wscott says

    Is Sullivan expressing doubt about the historocity of Jesus, or is he playing No True Scotsman? (Of course we know it’s the latter.)

    [Whistle] False dichotomy: 10 yard penalty.

    It is possible (for some people) to believe that God exists and the Bible/Catholicism in general were divinely inspired, while simultaneously recognizing that today’s Catholic Church are a horrific gang of villains. I’m an atheist, so obviously I don’t agree with him on the former, but Sullivan has been second to none in criticizing the Church’s babarism and crimes. Not all Christians are black-and-white Fundamentalist absolutists; we don’t have to agree with them, but pretending they don’t exist is a fallacy.

  13. steve oberski says

    @colnago80

    Much like the ideal gas, the point, the infinite plane, the perfectly compressible gas and the infinitely elastic material, none of heddle’s true xtians have actually ever been observed in nature.

    About all they are good for is describing what a theoretical xtian, which is apparently an xtian that shares the same delusions as heddle, might do in a given circumstance, but only if there was an observer – which there will never be.

  14. Michael Heath says

    Ed concludes:

    “Whatever you do to the least of these, my brethren, you do unto me also.” Remember that? Apparently the Catholic Church doesn’t.

    I do remember that. It’s always resonated with me. I fail miserably to live up to this standard, but I try.

    It’s one of the few principles preached to me that caused me to sit up and take notice; the other two being the idea that grace trumps justice and truth matters.

    Here in the U.S., there is no politically powerful group more opposed to this principle than conservative Christians.

  15. Michael Heath says

    cry4turtles writes:

    Yet Sullivan still subscribes to the barbaric ideology. How?

    Reading comprehension fail of the week.

    Additionally, Andrew Sullivan has long been a consistent and principled critic on the difference between Christianity and the abhorrent behavior of some Catholics, including its hierarchy.

    While I think he does defectively make ‘no true Scotsman’ arguments regarding political conservativsm; he makes laudable defenses of Christianity. And I make this point advocating that Christianity and all religions die a quick death (due to free unfettered choice, not through force).

  16. steve84 says

    In Spain and Australia they also stole babies and sold them. They told mothers they deemed unfit that their children had died shortly after birth, falsified the death certificate and sold the babies to “good” Catholic families. They did for decades. There tens of not hundreds of thousands such cases.

  17. jameshanley says

    Michael Heath,
    advocating that Christianity and all religions die a quick death (due to free unfettered choice, not through force).

    So you’ve stopped advocating that people who take their kids to church be charged with child abuse? I approve.

  18. grumpyoldfart says

    Religion attracts control freaks.

    God has control over who lives and who dies and his devotees strive to have the same control over their flocks. Some of them (Jones of Jonestown for example) achieve that control.

    These Catholics nuns aimed for that level of control and apparently achieved it by simply withholding medical services from their victims.

  19. wscott says

    Honestly, the Bible is just a big-ass Rorschach test. Repressive, barbaric asshats stare into it and see justification for whatever atrocities they want to commit. Progressive, empathetic people stare into it and see calls for love and compassion. This is not an argument in the Bible’s favor, but I don’t reject the compassion of the latter group just because they’re staring at the same ink blot as the former.

  20. dingojack says

    wscott – If you believe the RCC’s teachings were ‘divinely inspired’* and that god is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent (which Catholics supposedly do), when faced with the evidence of such crimes one would have to conclude that:
    a) God created the RCC, lightly dusted off his hands, shoved them in his pockets and walked away (with nary a backward glance) whistling slightly whilst pretending nothing could possibly go wrong
    b) The RCC’s teachings are NOT divinely inspired because it’s not the religion that god created OR
    c) The RCC’s teachings are NOT divinely inspired because god is a fiction.

    If c) then those who are responsible are evil, if b) then the RCC as well as those responsible are evil, if a) god, the RCC and those responsible are evil.
    All one is doing now is haggling over the price.
    Dingo
    ——–
    * Does ‘believing in god’ necessitate being a Catholic or even a Christian? Most of the world’s population might want to argue your assumption.

  21. colnago80 says

    Steve Oberski @ #20

    What do you mean that Heddle has never seen a true Christian? He sees one every time he looks in a mirror.

  22. timberwoof says

    Long ago I wondered what led to Article 6, paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Basic Law of Germany: “Every mother shall be entitled to the protection and care of the community. Children born outside of marriage shall be provided by legislation with the same opportunities for physical and mental development and for their position in society as are enjoyed by those born within marriage.” Now I know. :(

    ( http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_gg/englisch_gg.html#p0022 )

  23. dhall says

    While I absolutely don’t want to give the impression that I don’t think this is horrible, it’s also not an isolated occurrence and it’s not limited to Catholics. There was a practice in the UK in Victorian times called ‘baby farming.’ Families that couldn’t afford to keep more children than they already had turned infants over to so-called baby farmers who were supposed to wet-nurse them and raise them, in exchange for payments. Single women also turned infants over to baby farmers rather than face the stigma associated with being unwed mothers. However, a lot of those children died of neglect and abuse, and people were convicted of murder in some of the more notorious cases. One of my students wrote quite a sobering research paper on this a couple of years ago.
    Beyond that, throughout much of history, unwanted infants have been ‘exposed;’ left to die out in the countryside, especially female infants. Infanticide has occurred throughout much of history, all across the world in different societies with different religious beliefs. This instance of it is terrible, and it exposes the hypocrisy and cruelty of those who let those children die. It also exposes the utterly ridiculous, no-win situation that the women found themselves in as a result of a religious establishment that enforces a double standard that condemns women but lets men off the hook, and likewise condemns infants. What I hope is that the outrage that this discovery has generated is an indication that enough of us are beginning to change the more general attitudes that enabled something like this to happen. I can hope, anyway.

  24. says

    Yet Sullivan still subscribes to the barbaric ideology. How?

    In the same way he manages to keep identifying as a conservative despite being constantly horrified at nearly everything that contemporary conservatives do: by pretending that there’s some pure essence behind the belief system that is wholly disconnected from the people and institutions that actually practice it.

  25. raven says

    While I absolutely don’t want to give the impression that I don’t think this is horrible, it’s also not an isolated occurrence and it’s not limited to Catholics. There was a practice in the UK in Victorian times called ‘baby farming.’

    Way to miss the point.

    We aren’t talking about ancient times!!!

    Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Home, run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam.

    This mass killing of children overlaps with my lifetime. I was learning duck and cover drills to survive a nuclear attack about the time it was closed.

    Nor are we talking about a primitive society like Somalia, Central African Republic, or Pakistan. This happened in a western European, English speaking country.

  26. Michael Heath says

    Me earlier:

    [I advocate] that Christianity and all religions die a quick death (due to free unfettered choice, not through force).

    James Hanley responds:

    So you’ve stopped advocating that people who take their kids to church be charged with child abuse? I approve.

    Wow, you’ve turned into a committed ideologue, e.g., misrepresenting what others argue. I.e., I’ve never argued, ever, that people who take their children to church should be charged with child abuse.

    I have pointed out that conservative churches and parents practice an insidious form of child abuse. For example, how the former group abuses gay children. But it’s a non sequitur to leap from my pointing out a fact to your conjuring up the false claim that I asserted that we should criminalize certain types of child abuse.

  27. cry4turtles says

    Michael Heath says,”Reading comprehension fail of the week.”. How so? Because Sullivan “makes laudable defenses of Christianity”, does this nullify his devotion to Catholicism? Or does it nullify what the RCC has done?

  28. says

    ” throughout much of history, unwanted infants have been ‘exposed;’ left to die out in the countryside, especially female infants. Infanticide has occurred throughout much of history, all across the world in different societies with different religious beliefs.”

    True, but not necessarily on point.

    The RCC which I had a lot of years to examine from up close rattles on quite a bit about how EVERY child must be baptized (or did so until long after I left the fold) or never gain heaven. They also make quite a big deal out of not killing people (except in sanctioned wars, then it’s OKAY WITH GOD). That this practice was antithetical to their teachings is beyond doubt.

  29. anubisprime says

    raven @32

    We aren’t talking about ancient times!!!

    I was born to an unmarried mother in London about 8 years before this place was finally closed.

    On my birth certificate where the father’s name was supposed to be was a rather succinct word underlined and in in black ink…”Illegitimate” …I believe later on certificates that was changed to “Father unknown” but I am old school apparently.

    My Grandma related a tale which I have never been able to verify independently but me ma agreed with the just of it..

    A couple of days after I was born an RC crow showed up in the hospital ward dedicated to the post labour women, he apparently toured the beds…bestowing blessings or the ‘may the spirit of Christ compel you’ mumbled mantra…well similar anyway, when he got to my mothers bed he ‘offered’ my mother to take me in to the care and auspices of the RCC, no questions asked and no fee charged.

    That was what he was a about…out of 5 women on the ward three were married and two not..three he ignored with a curt …spectacle… testicle… wallet… watch hand movement and two not….

    My mother was a staunch atheist, hence her obvious sinful lifestyle, she informed the ‘crow’ as to her decision in no unambiguous terms… the Priest apparently left red faced, scandalized and genuflecting fit to rapture…according to grandma any ways!

    But there was a requirement that my grandma had to sign papers which awarded my guardianship to her…but I have no idea if that was to prevent the ‘crow’ from waltzing out the ward with me…I rather suspect it was!

  30. raven says

    The Mormon Curtain – LDS SOCIAL SERVICES
    mormoncurtain .com/topic_ldsss.html

    IOW, the Church’s primary goal with every unwed parent is to get ‘persuade’ her to … on unwed parents to place their child for adoption with LDS Family Services … adoption whenever the mother is unwed — a bishop can’t force her to do this, …

    BTW, stuff similar to this still happens in the USA.

    No surprise, the leader these days is an authoritarian mind control cult AKA the Mormon church.

    They have their own adoption agencies known as LDS social services. In their cult, having sex outside of marriage or being an unwed mother is a huge negative deal, much like what it was in Catholic Ireland in the 20th century.

    1. If the parents are both Mormons they will try a forced shotgun marriage.

    2. If that doesn’t work, they will pressure the woman or girl to give up the child for adoption. They are pretty ruthless about it. It also works often because LDS women are brought up docile and taught to obey men in general and the church in particular.

    3. It’s an ongoing scandal with a lot of horror stories. It’s also still ongoing.

    4. Some of these cults, fundies and Mormon encourage people to adopt any babies they can vacuum up. So they can be raised in the religion. They can’t recruit so they have to reproduce.

  31. dhall says

    I wasn’t talking about only “ancient times” either. Or about so-called primitive places. But whatever.

  32. wscott says

    a) God created the RCC, lightly dusted off his hands, shoved them in his pockets and walked away (with nary a backward glance) whistling slightly whilst pretending nothing could possibly go wrong

    if a) god, the RCC and those responsible are evil.

    Hey Dingo, you know that thing some Christians do where they say “Atheists believe X,” and you go “Wait, I’m an atheist, and I don’t believe that,” but they completely ignore what you’re saying because it’s easier and more fun to beat up their straw man than it is to fairly characterize what atheists actually believe and engage with those ideas? You know how annoying that is? Yeah, you’re doing the same thing here.

    Like many/most progressive Christians, Sullivan believes something along the lines of:
    1. God created the world, including us.
    2. God gave us guidance (ie the Bible, et. al.) on how we’re supposed to live.
    3. But he also gave us free will because it’s more important that we choose to be good, rather than having good forced upon us.
    4. The Church was created by people, and is composed of people, and is therefore imperfect at best, capable of great evil at worst.
    So, in the eyes of people like Sullivan, the individuals responsible are evil, and the Church is clearly complicit in allowing it to happen. But the sins of the son aren’t automatically an indictment against the father.

    [shrug] Like I said, *I* think it’s all nonsense. The free will thing, in particular, seems like a complete copout to me. But if one believes 1-3, believing 4 is not logically inconsistent: just because the messengers are evil tools, that does not in and of itself invalidate the message. So yeah, I think Sullivan’s deluded for still believing in this “message,” but no more so than a majority of religious believers – which is to say no more than a majority of humanity.

    Per my earlier comment, the fact that Sullivan looks at the ink blot and sees good things does not make him a bad person, even if he’s wrong.

  33. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Modus

    they have New Pope,

    I have noticed that New Pope can go down easier, but so many prefer the Old Formula that a lot of people are questioning whether New Pope is legitimate Pope. It’s really hard to see the Corporate office permanently changing the formula, and obviously just adding a little extra sweetener isn’t working for them. They’re just too established as a brand to make a real change. Frankly, I see the market rejecting New Pope, but the Old Formula won’t make inroads with the youth without marketing partnerships with outside agents able to provide a captive market. Of course, the Corporate Office’s Old Formula relied on captive markets, so it’s not necessarily a problem for them, but anywhere that they can’t get the Old Formula down kids’ throats early, their market is going to die off leaving them in the worst of all possible market positions: billions of sunk costs in a brand too identifiable to change, and too unpalatable sell.

    Wait, what were we talking about again?

  34. wscott says

    In the same way he manages to keep identifying as a conservative despite being constantly horrified at nearly everything that contemporary conservatives do:

    Yes: by thinking that ideas can exist separate from the people who believe them, and that ideas should be judged on their merit, not on their associations. Seriously, why is this so hard? I disagree with Sullivan on a lot of things, but I admire his sticking to his principles rather than blindly cheerleading for the morons that happen to be running the GOP at the moment. Honestly, if we’re ever going to get back to sane political discourse in this country, we’re going to need more like him.

  35. wscott says

    @ Crip Dyke 40: That is the mostest awesomest thing I’ve read all week – Thank you!

  36. cry4turtles says

    wscott, interesting insight into Sullivan’s thought processes. I can’t help but think if I belonged to a club where all women with long hair worn in two braids a la Pipi Longstocking should be put to death, I’d quit that club.

  37. freehand says

    cry4turtles – So if a handful of atheists committed such crimes, you’d what – start believing in gods? How about more than a handful?

  38. freehand says

    cry4turtles – Also,

    Hahahhaha! Don’t be silly. Pippy wouldn’t be all that easy to kill.

  39. wscott says

    @ cry4turtles: *I* probably would quit too. But then I’m not much of a joiner in the first place. Personally, even if I did believe every drop of Catholic dogma, I don’t think I could stomach calling myself a Catholic. But I recognize that other people – even some smart, principled people – may draw that line in a different place.

  40. says

    Yes: by thinking that ideas can exist separate from the people who believe them…

    No, they can’t. Literally, they can’t. Belief systems are a product of the people who believe in them, nothing more, nothing less. There is no essence floating about in the aether that the truly enlightened can divine regardless of the cultural practices of real human beings. Whatever the Catholic Church does, that’s Catholicism.

    Understand this and you’ll start to see the problem with Sullivan’s well-intentioned but nonsensical attempts to rescue conservatism and Catholicism from the conservatives and Catholics.

  41. says

    ” But I recognize that other people – even some smart, principled people – may draw that line in a different place.”

    Fine. You will excuse those of us who will not trust them on anything that isn’t based on easily verifiable facts, then?

    I tend to lend little or no credence to people’s pronouncements when are obviously delusional about something–even if that thing is not directly related to the current pronouncement.

  42. wscott says

    No, they can’t. Literally, they can’t. Belief systems are a product of the people who believe in them, nothing more, nothing less.

    Nonsense! Kant’s philosophy exists, whether or not anyone still believes in it. Burkean conservative principles exist, you can look them up, even if today’s conservatives are nothing Burke would recognize. And Catholic beliefs/doctrine exist, whether or not the church leadership (or Catholics in general) currently follow them. Which one is the “true” Catholicism? Don’t know, don’t care, don’t feel like debating semantics. But the ideas don’t cease to exist just because certain people reject them.

    Whatever the Catholic Church does, that’s Catholicism.

    You’re defining “belief systems” solely in terms of group affiliation. And in some cases, that’s legit: if you call yourself a Republican or Democrat, you are explicitly or implicitly saying you support a majority of that party’s positions. But “conservative” is a set of ideas first, and a group affiliation second; you don’t have to drop the former just because the latter shifts. “Catholic” is more complicated because it’s both a group and a set of beliefs. The group identity is more important to some people; other people are more loyal to the ideas.
    .
    (It’s also worth noting that American Catholics have a long history of practicing their religion locally while pretty much ignoring the Vatican – birth control, etc. So I think they tend to equate Catholicism more with what church members do, not just what Rome does.)
    .
    Me? Even if I bought the beliefs, I don’t think I could call myself a Catholic without throwing up in my mouth a lot. But to Sullivan, the beliefs are the important thing. He believes Catholic doctrine/beliefs still have merit, in the same way he believes “old school” conservative principles still have merit even tho the current GOP has largely abandoned them. He also believes the church and the GOP are both worth fighting for to redeem them from their current effed-up management. Whether you or I agree with him, it’s not a logically-inconsistent position.

    Fine. You will excuse those of us who will not trust them on anything that isn’t based on easily verifiable facts, then?

    [shrug] Sure. I’m the last guy to defend religion. I’m simply pointing out that just because someone’s wrong about X doesn’t automatically make them wrong about Y.

    I tend to lend little or no credence to people’s pronouncements when are obviously delusional about something–even if that thing is not directly related to the current pronouncement.

    Awfully close to an ad hominum, doncha think? 99.99% of humanity is delusional about something. I think religion is stupid and needs to die, but I know plenty of believers who are perfectly intelligent in their chosen field.

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