It Takes A Village – UPDATED.

My fellow bloggers here at Patheos have done a fantastic job highlighting the various problems surrounding the news of the Home (a house for unwed mothers and children) in Ireland, where the bodies of 800 infants, dead many years, were found in a septic tank in 1995.

I’m still unclear why it’s news now, almost twenty years after the finding. Nevertheless, it invites comment.

Each of the bloggers points to the communal aspect of sin, all sin, which brings to mind Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s address to Marquette University (I believe it was a conference sponsored by the law school.) in 2011.

Archbishop Martin, after noticing in a priest’s file a note that Fr. So & So was up to his old tricks again, called in an independent outside expert to review all the priests personnel files to see if the previous investigations had in fact been sufficient. They had not.

He asks a lot of good questions. It’s worth the read if you haven’t read it before. But this paragraph stuck with me for years and the Home reminds me of it again:

The culture of clericalism has to be analysed and addressed.  Were there factors of a clerical culture which somehow facilitated disastrous abusive behaviour to continue for so long?  Was it just through bad decisions by Bishops or superiors?  Was there knowledge of behaviour which should have given rise to concern and which went unaddressed?   In Dublin one priest built a private swimming pool in his back garden to which only children of a certain age and appearance were invited.  He was in one school each morning and another each afternoon.  This man abused for years and there were eight priests in the parish.  Did no one notice?   More than one survivor tells me that they were jeered by other children in their school for being in contact with abuser priests.  The children on the streets knew, but those who were responsible seemed not to notice. [Emphasis mine.]

I’ve been to Dublin. In August. It was not swimming pool weather then or in any of the other months that I’ve been there. I can’t imagine a swimming pool being at all appropriate, especially if it was built by a priest. And before the tiger economy. His fellow eight priests had to know that something strange was up. It’s not like one can hide the antics that occur in a backyard swimming pool. The kids knew. So that means the teachers and the parents, at least some of them, had to know. The people who installed or built the pool had to know that there was something at least off in a priest having access to funds for such a luxury. Lots of people knew. Now, Archbishop Martin stays focused on those who were responsible, but I think he’s somewhat generous or he knows it won’t do any good to call out the community at large for crimes perpetrated by people who were expected to be much, much better.

People knew. Just like the situation at the Home:

  • The local board of health.
  • The community which didn’t want their daughters to end up there and which knew that many of the children did not survive.
  • The teachers and the students.

But Jennifer Fitz offers a really important consideration:

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.

So it could be that in a community that has known hard living, as the Irish did for centuries, the things that strike those of us commenting on events long past as wrong and sinful may have simply been a brutal reality of life. Still sinful, just unavoidable.

The point is, individual sin doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Even if it’s “private” or no one talks about it, it doesn’t go away. It still wreaks havoc.  In fact, denying that it exists seems to feed it and allow it to grow. Evil like the sex abuse scandals and the Home cannot exist without the support of people around it, especially those who pretend the problem is not there at all. Many other examples from history confirm this and, yet, the historical aspect itself (like the reflection Fitz offers) seems to be the distance that helps us to see evil for what it is. Evil.


Caroline Farrow has a very interesting piece providing historical context. In particular, I like this insight:

For every mother sent to an institution there was a society unwilling to accept them into their community and to stand up for their basic dignity. There was a documented unwillingness to rely on their testimony regarding the paternity of their children or to hold the men to account.

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  • Iwishyouwell

    I’m sorry, but you are just twisting the facts to defend the Church. What happened at this home, and at others, was evil. Period. Full stop.

    How dare you make excuses for this kind of evil? How dare you?

    • Sara

      Where do you get the idea she is “defending” anyone? Did you read the article through – especially the last paragraph? Where are the “excuses”?

      • Joseph

        The excuses are being made by the faithful to defend a bankrupt philosophy and leadership.

    • ADG

      It seems to me that certain allegations have been made, and the factual basis for them is being asked for. Is this what it is being made out to be, or is it largely sensationalism? Do you think investigators and journalists never twist “facts”? Was an attempt made to interview the Bon Secours Sisters or anyone who had staffed the home?

      Probably the most disturbing claim In the WaPo article is that illegitimate children were denied baptism. I have trouble believing this, but it is condemnable if true.

      • Iwishyouwell

        And yet not one single Irish Catholic familiar with what was actually happening at the time in Ireland is at all surprised by this.

        Stop filtering everything through your privileged, contemporary, American lens.

        Go hang out at Simcha Fisher’s blog. She denies the Magdalen Laundries even existed.

      • Elizabeth K.

        There’s no proof of it–the WaPo article is, quite literally, hearsay strung together into sensationalism. Check out some of the articles from the iIrsh press on this story–they go back a ways, and they’re far more informative.

        • Pia

          To your point, Elizabeth:

          Thanks for your persistance.

          • Elizabeth K.

            Thanks for putting it in a kind light! It’s the writing teacher in me–lack of evidence, poor argument, makes me nuts and not a little bit grumpy. (e.g., why would children who were not baptised be allowed to receive First Communion, as also reported?) Thanks for the update, and great blog–I’m really enjoying it!

    • Joseph

      How they dare? A huge portion of who they are as humasn is tied to the dogmatic sub- culture provided by the Church. If it turns out the Church is, in fact, no more ethical or moral or any less evil than any other group – this seriously call into question year sof closely held personal belief. Tha tcan be devistating and people will fight bloody wars over that issue. for reference see any factual history of the Church from say 100 – 1700 CE.

      • Bill

        I am not taking a position on this story, however, I wish to say that is you truly believe what you say is fact I suggest you REALLY read the history of the Church even those histories written my those who are opposed to the church in principle. Yes the church has had its bad times in history, but the good the church has done far out ways what some in the church have done wrongly. I suggest you read “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” by the historian Woods. While you’re being education by that book I also suggest you read “The New Anti-Catholicism” by Professor Jenkins, a Protestant professor by the way. Always know your facts before you go on bloviating.

    • Theodore Seeber

      What “facts” would those be?

  • darthlevin

    In Caroline’s article that you linked in the update, it dates the finding of the bodies to 1975, not 1995. So it’s 40 year old news, not 20.

    • Pia

      Yes, the WAPost story which started this story on Patheos has 1995. Caroline’s article is a later add to the story. WAPost still has not updated its story; so it’s unclear which is correct. Regardless, the whole story is unclear, including the timing. As you point out, it could very well be 40 year-old news.

  • Elizabeth K.

    I literally cannot find any article or source that states that 800 bodies were “found in a septic tank” at any time, 1995 or otherwise, or that anyone has actually excavated this site: what I’m seeing is that there’s a list of 796 children who died over a forty year period, whose graves cannot be found elsewhere in the area, and some of whom are listed as buried at the Tuam home. Some boys reported finding a bunch of skulls 40 years ago, but this has not been verified. Please understand, I’m all for an investigation and excavation, but how did we get from point a to point b? What am I missing?

    • Pia
      • Elizabeth K.

        But again, this headline seems ,misleading and isn’t supported by any evidence in the article itself–and is contradicted by other articles elsewhere.. Eg, the Gardai have said clearly that there has been no excavation, that no bodies have been found in any septic tank on the premises, and the number 800 comes from a list of dead collected by Corless that she believes must be buried there. I’m not saying she’s wrong–I’m just saying as far as I can tell, no official seems to know of any actual bodies, it’s all conjecture at this point, yes? Again–not trying to be argumentative at all –I just don’t see anything beyond headlines that points to actual physical evidence being found; instead, I keep coming across statements that refute these kinds of headlines by the police themselves.

        • Pia

          Elizabeth, I took it from this section of the WAPost article:

          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.”

          I updated with the post from Caroline Farrows because she sheds some light on the story and shows that many of the facts are murky, unknown, or incorrect.

          I still maintain the question, “Why now?” It will be interesting to see if the WAPost sticks to the account in the original article.

          • Elizabeth K.

            It definitely will be. I’ve read the article–and the others. But it’s clear from accounts closer to home that Corless hasn’t actually done any excavation herself (and in fact really broke the story because she wants a memorial built, now that the gravesite (as, note, it has been known for thirty years–hardly a secret) can’t be maintained by the man who had taken responsibility for it. Here’s my prophecy: if the WaPo ever walks back the story, they’ll do it on page 10, and the myth of the 800 bodies will live on in infamy. Sorry,. but I’m pretty cynical at this point about both the anti-Catholic press and the gullibility (or perhaps desire to be deceived) of the public.

          • Theodore Seeber

            I see no substantiation for that accusation by the Washington Post- which of course is Standard Operating Procedure for the tabloid journalism most papers have become.

            Can you please link to the report from the excavation of the grave?

        • Joseph

          Indeed, Elizabeth, go say a few decades. the church and it’s minions will get off Scott free once again. Just remember that a big chunk of what you drop in the collection plate will going for legal fees.

          • Elizabeth K.

            OK, Joseph–so reason and facts aren’t of interest to you. Good to know. Please don’t reply to me again, ok? Bury your head in your, um, bigotry, and get on with ye, as the Irish say.

    • Joseph

      You are not looking very hard. I found it in three minutes.

      • Elizabeth K.

        Then post it please. Not the WaPo article–the ones where it says there has been an excavation, and 800 bodies have been found. Since you found it three minutes, how was it too hard to link in your response? If you don;t post it, I’ll assume you’re a bigoted liar. Fair?:

  • Yonah

    It looks like this post was very mis-designed. Re-do?

  • Joseph

    Fact: An Order of women of the Catholic Church committed heinous crimes over a period of time. The crimes were committed against societies most vulnerable children and women. there was no supervision by any person or agency in the “cahin of command”. It did not taek long for the Church to land on the nuns who “transgressd” over dogma. But, apparently 800 dead babies is much less compelling than women and dogma.

    This is not an indictment of Catholicism. for me it simply raises the question of why, when new horrors of ethics and morals and genuine evil are uncovered the Catholic Church is always so predominant?

    • Elizabeth K.

      What crimes, Joseph? 800 children died over a forty year period. In Ireland. How absolutely unexpected in a population subjected to the wicked genocidal history the British inflicted on them! Their deaths were recorded in public records, and their gravesite (as it was known to be) maintained for the past thirty years. What exactly was the crime? Could you cite a few facts, and less hysteria?

      • Mikazaru

        Crimes? Criminal negligence; infant death rates 4 to 5 times that of general population in Ireland at that time, and in fact a death rate equal to that of 17th century times. Murder; such was the willful neglect of some of the children that many babies died of malnutrition, babies that could’ve survived on breastmilk alone. Institutions like this actually had dying rooms where the particularly unwanted, having been separated permanently from their mothers, could simply be left until they were no more. Illegal (and grossly disrespectful) disposal of the deceased, what you are describing is not a grave site, it is the land over a sewage tank where these babies were dumped unceremoniously once a fortnight. At least other genocidal institutions throughout history had the respect to afford their victims dirt and soil. And that’s before we even delve into the day to day physical, sexual and emotional abuse that occurred in institutions like this, and in time we’ll undoubtedly find happened here as well.

        • Elizabeth K.

          Take a breath, dearie. I think you forgot the secret ritual human sacrifices and nun priest orgies.

          Meanwhile, in real news, none of what you’ve stated above has been established. Some of us like facts and reason, some of us like Chick tracts. I see you’re the latter. Have fun with that! Or, you know, read stuff and use your head. Your choice.

          • Mikazaru

            I’ve been reading these stories all week, on multiple different news sites, mainly Irish, not just moaning about the Washington Post like everyone else on Patheos Catholic. I’ve talked with Irish people older than myself with memories longer than mine, and just this afternoon I watched the Prime Time report on Irish television. I know what I’m talking about. And I know this isn’t the only one, people know there are more of these, one not too far from where I live. You say nothing’s established? Maybe you’re the one who needs to read and watch the “real news” I have. Not one Irish person in the hundreds I’ve talked to or seen commenting on these stories is surprised, and what I’ve stated has been established, unfortunately most of it years ago. Maybe you should take your own advice, read stuff and use your head.

          • The Irish Atheist

            She probably doesn’t believe anyone died in the Troubles either.

          • Mikazaru

            I’ve enjoyed listening to people all evening manning the defences and telling me what Ireland’s culture was like and how the church was not to blame, in fact sometimes saying that nothing even happened. Skeptics of everything but religion.

          • Elizabeth K.

            yeah, that’s what I believe I.A. That comment alone reveals how little you’ve even attempted to read my posts on this. Don’t be daft.

      • The Irish Atheist

        These children died in the Republic of Ireland after our war of Independence. The British had nothing to do with it. You really shouldn’t speak about things you clearly cannot understand.

        • Elizabeth K.

          The economic wars against the Irish after independence, by the British, had no affect on the Irish economy? In the west especially? Really???

          • The Irish Atheist

            I grew up in the west, sweetheart. Galway is my home. I meant that the Brits had nothing to do with 800 children dying and being disposed of without dignity. That’s on your church.

            Don’t try to lecture me about my own country.

          • Elizabeth K.

            So, you’re saying that England was not a major factor in the abject poverty of many Irish in the 20th century, especially in your home of Galway? And that the poverty experienced had nothing today with the rates of illness and malnutrition experienced by children and those who cared for them? Sorry, that’s like Stockholm syndrome. I don’t have to be Irish to know Irish history.

          • The Irish Atheist

            I said nothing of the sort, so save your book-learned rubbish. I’m saying that it had nothing to do with a mortality rate 400% above the average and the subsequent undignified disposal of bastard children in an unnamed grave.

          • Elizabeth K.

            I love that you used the term “book-learned rubbish.” This conversation is so worth it just for that. Thank you.

          • The Irish Atheist

            The point being, of course, that reading a book about Ireland does not make you an authourity on the nation, it’s history, or the myriad effects of its convoluted history with your religion, especially when you spew false conclusions and insinuations.

            But apparently that flew over your head. Now excuse me. I need to go read a book on Pearl Harbour and then tell some WWII veterans what REALLY happened.

          • Elizabeth K.

            No, I totally got it, and I think you’re full of nonsense (just as you think I am) but it was just a supremely awesome turn of phrase. The kind one repeats to oneself just for the sheer joy of the words. It’s also, and I’m sure you knew this, completely paradoxical. Are you saying you *weren’t* saying what by book-learned rubbish has learned me? Because why would you be saying that, if it’s rubbish? Love it. And then “spew.” Spew! An unexpected gift!

  • Andy O

    I understand your wish to view this issue in a larger picture of the time but there may be evidence of children starved to death (doctors notes that children died of malnutrition). There are suggestions that children may have been allowed to starve to death because they were handicapped or not “marketable” for adoption. If this happened then it needs to be investigated…no matter how long ago it may have happened.

  • ADG

    The WaPo doesn’t exactly have a great record of truthfulness in reporting. Some years ago a reporter named Janet Cooke wrote an article about an 8 year old heroin addict that attracted a lot of interest and in fact won a Pullitzer. The whole thing was later admitted to be a complete fabrication.

  • The Irish Atheist

    These children were dug up several kilometres from where I grew up. Galway is my home. This grave was found practically in my backyard.

    And all you can do is make excuses and shuffle it off as not representative of your church. How many more of my people have to die before your religion is held accountable? I lives through the child rape scandal and the Troubles. Enough is enough.

    • Manya Shochet

      Sounds to me like the columnists here are not passing the buck. They seem to be taking responsibility as members of their Church in a very personal way, and they’re not going to keep their own eyes closed. So there’s that.

  • Jim Dailey

    I wish Elizabeth K. would stop confusing everything with facts. It gets in the way of a good yarn, and upsets the Know Nothings until they are frothing!

    • Elizabeth K.

      LOL, Jim Dailey. It has gotten frothy on these threads, hasn’t it?

  • Mrshopey

    Well, fast forward and the situation is similar in that these children would not be born due to contraception and/or abortion. So, have we really gotten better? The one thing that was right back then was the best place for a child was in a marriage. We have a very prolife state but these women who go out and have children who aren’t married aren’t bothered that the best place for the child is with a mom and dad. And it is costly. So, they are accepted now but things haven’t gotten better. I wouldn’t choose one over the other. Just my observations.