Fresh reports of horror out of Ireland, these far grimmer than what I had seen previously (which were grim enough). Is there something special about the Irish that makes them so cruel? No, there is not. It’s not an Irish thing, it’s not a Catholic thing, it’s not a nun thing. It’s an evil thing.
On the question of religion, my advice is simple: If your religion commands you to commit evil acts, it’s time to get a new religion. What happened in this orphanage was sin writ large, nasty, and unabashed. It can in no way be justified or excused or in any manner considered consistent with the Catholic faith.
UPDATE #1: For a broader perspective on the social conditions surrounding this incident, see: Tuam children’s home – salting the earth
UPDATE #2: More fact-checking sheds new light.
I assume, dear reader, that you aren’t starving and torturing captives as you read this now. I’m not either. Neither were the many people who said and did nothing as these atrocities were being committed under their noses.
What you and I need to fear, then, is not our tolerance of cruelty towards Irish unwed mothers of the mid-20th century, but our tolerance of some other horror that perhaps we can’t even see.
Evil is Ordinary
When I read the first accounts out the Irish laundries several years ago, I was struck by how similar many of the reports were to life on a subsistence farm in the American South in the same era. There were accounts of gross abuse, but there were also travesties that were eerily like something out of Little House on the Prairie. Hard discipline, heavy labor, not much food. That was life around the world for many people from loving, nurturing, perfectly innocent homes.
It occurred to me then that if you’d grown up never having quite enough to eat, your body always aching, the cold always biting, you’d be a very poor judge of what constituted reasonable conditions for a group home.
That’s not an excuse, it’s a caution. You and I have evil we are used to. Venial sins, or merely difficult situations, that are so much part of the fabric of our lives that it clouds our judgement. Grave sins we might not even realize are sins. Our capacity for recognizing evil is dimmed. What ought to horrify us does not.
But they were the nuns! But it was the parish priest! Our family doctor! The kindergarten teacher! My neighbor!
Evil puts on a good face. Whether it’s the convict claiming he’s just a poor, simple man wrongly accused, or the upstanding citizen pointing to his accomplishments and honors to prove his innocence, evil always looks for a good facade. Not reasons, not evidence. An aura. “How could you say that about me?” come the hurt protests. “Anyone who says that is just jealous, or ungrateful, or trying to get back at me! After all I’ve done for you!”
I once told my husband that I’d rather live in a working class neighborhood than an expensive one, because wealthy crooks are better at covering over. At least among the uncouth, the crazy shows itself pretty quickly.
Evil Gets Along
When you live alongside evil, there comes a time when you can no longer pretend. It is good to avoid rash judgments. It is good to think the best of others, to look for that charitable explanation of our neighbor’s lapses. We’re all human after all, none of us perfect. Sooner or later, though, the evidence is in your face. Undeniable.
How then are you going to respond?
What evil wants is for you to decide that “getting along” is the highest virtue. Make peace with evil. Live with it. That’s the temptation.
Unless the evil is hurting you, personally, in a grave and unavoidable way, the temptation to get along and go along is very, very powerful.
Evil Demands Sacrifice
It is a powerful temptation because to do otherwise is to risk losing everything. It costs, and costs dearly, to fight evil.
Are you willing to risk your job? Your family life? Your parish? Your community? What are you willing to see destroyed rather than cooperate with evil? Even your very life, or the life of someone you love more than life itself, may be on the line.
Are there rewards in Heaven for this sacrifice? Yes, and yes with abundance overflowing beyond our imagination.
Here on earth? No, not so much.
Related: Just Tell the Police