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Further reporting has somewhat taken the most appalling edges off the story of the 796 dead children, buried without markers in one of the 20th Century Irish gulags for the sexually sinful and their children. No one is disputing the missing 796 toddler corpses, nor that they were probably buried in a mass grave. But the septic tank where some children were buried may only have had a couple dozen corpses, with the rest buried elsewhere:

Barry Sweeney, now 48, who was questioned by detectives about what he saw when he was 10 years old, said: “People are making out we saw a mass grave. But we can only say what we seen: maybe 15 to 20 small skeletons.”

The historian who uncovered the tragedy also insists that she never used the word “dumped” to describe the bodies. What we obviously need right now is a full and objective investigation into the former home and grounds, and a much wider inquiry into all the other institutions where young women and their babies were made invisible and often ended up dead. Mercifully, that will now happen:

Irish Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan has announced a statutory Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes in Ireland … Mr Flanagan told Irish state broadcaster RTÉ that the government will receive an initial report from the investigating team by 30 June. On Sunday, one of the most senior figures in the Catholic Church in Ireland said a full inquiry was needed. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said the truth must come out.

With any luck, we will get more clarity on the nature of the entire ghastly enterprise. Meanwhile, Fintan O’Toole has a must-read on the broader cultural context for the atrocities. In the Catholic mindset of the time, illegitimate children were regarded as physically and mentally weaker than other “virtuous” toddlers:

In 1943, the Joint Committee of Women’s Societies and Social Workers compiled a well-meaning memorandum on children in institutions. It noted of those in mother-and-baby homes that “These illegitimate children start with a handicap. Owing to the circumstances of their birth, their heredity, the state of mind of the mother before birth, their liability to hereditary disease and mental weakness, we do not get, and we should not expect to get, the large percentage of healthy vigorous babies we get in normal circumstances. This was noticeable in the institutions we visited.”

So the children were blamed for the consequences of their own mistreatment. It’s an insight into how Christianity’s sex-phobia so distorted the faith that it actually demonized children and excused their early deaths. And that, of course, was the reason for their not being buried individually, with markers. They were regarded as subhuman.

I repeat my view that when a doctrine begets this evil, there is something deeply wrong with the doctrine itself. When it leads to an inversion of Christianity’s deeper call to empathy, care for the vulnerable and love of children, it is objectively disordered.

(Photo: headpiece of the High Cross in Tuam, Ireland, by Clint Malpaso via Wiki)