Archives For Home Babies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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)

The Irish government is considering a wider inquiry into the possibility of many more mass graves for abused and neglected children across the island. The legacy of this evil system – deeply rooted in the church and the state – could emerge as something even darker than we have Tuam Crossjust witnessed. What we’re looking at is an entire society designed to make undesirables invisible – the “wayward” young women, and their stigmatized illegitimate children. And the point of that forced invisibility and, in the case of children, mass death, was to uphold the Catholic doctrine that regards sex as something so dangerous, that any exception to the one-partner-for-life-and-babies rule had to be extinguished from view. And that, of course, also applied to the other unmentionable class of people who could not live up to this rigid, punitive ideology: gay people. In Ireland, homosexuality was decriminalized as recently as 1993.

This is the social architecture necessary to ensure that the godly republic of Rod Dreher’s dreams actually could exist in the modern world. This is what you need to prevent fallible human beings from infecting society with their Satanic impulses. The Magdalene Laundries were really a kind of gulag for sexual miscreants:

[Boston College professor and activist] James Smith refers to it as Ireland’s “architecture of containment,” and that’s exactly what it was. You had these industrial schools, the Magdalene laundries, the mother and baby homes, all with different remits, but the basic model was to contain and segregate anything that was deemed morally inferior by society, whether that’s children, unwed mothers, the women in the Magdalenes, etc.

The mother and baby homes were different in that they were regulated by the state and had to be accredited adoption societies, at least by 1952, which is when that became legal in Ireland. They received stipends from the day they opened, from the government. They were receiving the equivalent of an industrial wage at that time for each mother and baby, from the state. If that were the case, why were so many of these women, like my mother or Philomena Lee, expected to earn their keep if the state were in fact funding that? It really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Obviously there was some profit being made there, not to mention what half of our parents paid. That’s another story unto itself. Adoptive parents were “donating” huge amounts of money.

So these homes were both labor and internment camps. And the inmates were deemed beneath any empathy or decency. What’s impressive about the thoroughness of this vision of theocon perfection is that it extended even to the children of such wicked women.

The sexual theology was so all-important no other values – not even protecting the innocent and vulnerable – could be allowed to dilute it. At the apex of this system, of course, is the celibate priesthood, whose sexuality is also simply regarded as non-existent, whose human needs and urges are made invisible as well, even as their damaged psyches – damaged by the same theology that created the gulags – led them to the mass rape and abuse of other children.

This is a form of Christianity which treats children as objects to be raped, neglected or left to die. It is a reminder of how foul and dangerous the union of church and state can be, and of how utterly distortive sexual repression and delusion can be. Here’s what the Catholic church is when its sexual repression is its first and fundamental value: a church that essentially aborted its unwanted children – but only after brief wretched lives of abuse, neglect and sickness.

“The Irish In Me”

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 5 2014 @ 8:28pm

A reader writes:

I think there is something very important that gets glancing attention in your post on the Irish 800. And that is, there must have been many who knew about it.

Of course many knew about it. There is complicity by the population as a whole and it isn’t just Catholicism. Mind you now, I love the Irish. I’ve Irish in me. I say this being an American woman, talking to Irish women, knowing Irish women, observing, but from my very distant culture. There have been small Tuam Crosschanges in Ireland in the last 30 years, but … there is a place women must know, and it’s weird. It is far different than an American woman’s place.

In the 1990s, the 90s, for God’s sake, a proper woman wouldn’t order a pint in a pub, or sit in a pub itself. She sat in the snug and ordered a “glass”. So when I came there, I did it too. You wouldn’t look a strange man in the eye, or say hello on the street. That was for the man beside you to do. Friendly yes, extremely friendly. But never between the sexes. Strangers on the street, men, would do this weird little head tip to each other, and you would trot beside your own man, unnoticed, no “How are yeh.” At first visit, when I saw the head tip, I did it too, thinking I was being friendly, like we do back in the States–our two finger wave above the steering wheel on the two lane highways out here. I got caught doing the head tip by my male companion and it was like I was some upper class kid trying to throw up a gang sign in the poor part of town. “What the hell are you doing?” Understand that in my part of the Midwest, you just looked everyone in the eye and there just wasn’t this thing about being a woman. Just not. Looking people in the eye smiling and saying hi here is being polite, not stuck up. And there has never been some weird part of the bar that was the only place girls could go to, and only order a girl drink.

In Ireland, if you didn’t comply with these little norms, you were a slut. Or certainly an embarrassment.

Has Ireland changed? A bit.

However, in the year 2012, I visited relatives in rural western Ireland whose teenage daughter got pregnant. She wasn’t shipped off, she stayed home, had the baby. I came for tea. We talked of everything, but the baby. The baby sat in the room, and no one remarked about it. It was as if there was some creature making a bothersome noise, like an errant animal, and NO ONE TALKED ABOUT HOW THAT CREATURE GOT THERE.

I think about that poor girl, pregnant at 14, who in her tiny village would have had no access to contraception and very little sense of birth control. To get birth control would be to find someone to give you a lift 5 hours away, to Galway City. The likelihood of a girl like that being able to get away, to travel that far, just to do that, get birth control…well it just would never happen. I presume there was a boy involved, no one said anything. Dun da bheal. Shut yer mouth. She will never live it down. Never. Her life is over in that village. She will have to leave in order to have a decent life. Anytime she comes home for a visit, the talk will start up.

My husband used to fantasize from time to time about moving to Ireland and I just couldn’t. I have a daughter. The very thought just made by chest tighten with anxiety. I find that environment terrifying. There isn’t the equivalent, even if you are Catholic, in the States. There is somewhere to go. You have options. You can get contraception. People will acknowledge there is a baby, if you do get pregnant. Your life is not over. It isn’t Catholicism. It is dun da bheal.

The children of the slatterns, those 800, well that was dun da bheal as well. The cruelty of it is astonishing, because honestly, the Irish LOVE children, they dote on mine when we go over. But the 800, they were evidence of a great damning shame. They were the mewling creature in the room that one should just not notice.

In Ireland, there are stirrings for a full investigation into the staggering news that a former home for unmarried mothers and their children was effectively a death camp for infants, and close to 800 were buried in a septic tank. It’s important to note that we have not yet had a thorough investigation of the site, formal confirmation of all the alleged tiny corpses, or the kind of inquiry that could answer many as-yet-unanswered questions. But it’s notable that no one in the church or civil authorities have simply denied the account. The order of nuns responsible for this grotesque atrocity, and its subsequent cover-up, are apparently consulting with their bishop.

There are now calls to investigate all the sites once run by this sadistic, wicked order in order to discover how many children were neglected, abused and thrown away like so much trash. I’d say that’s a start. In my view, the entire order should be shut down by the Vatican until we have a much better understanding of these crimes, who knew about them, and when. There should also surely be a thorough attempt to find anyone still connected with this cover-up for investigation and possible prosecution. Like war crimes, these horrifying abuses should know no statute of limitations.

Meanwhile, it simply staggers me to find bloggers deflecting blame away from the church. So we find this:

What’s troubling to me is the insistence that the abuse that occurred at The Home is “Catholic” abuse. It also troubles me greatly that people are using hatred of Catholicism as an excuse for those who saw these starving, neglected children and did nothing to intervene. This easy scapegoating of Catholicism removes everyone’s responsibility and any need to make change for children suffering today. There is no rational reason for identifying this as “Catholic” abuse.

Pardon my language but yes there fucking is. These children were treated as sub-human because Tuam Crosstheir births violated a Catholic doctrine that there can be no sex outside of marriage. The young women – denied contraception, of course – were equally subject to horrifying stigmatization, hatred, and inhumane rules that took their children away from them. None of this would have ever taken place without this doctrine, and the insistence that it be enforced without exception and relentlessly. No society has ever lived up to this standard, but in Ireland, where the church was fused with the state, they gave it about as good a try as possible. And in order to enforce it, in order to inculcate shame at the deepest level imaginable to prevent human love, passion and sex breaking out, cruelty was necessary. Whenever a society attempts to impose without exception an impossible abstraction on fallible human beings, such cruelty will always be necessary. You can check the roster of totalitarian and theocratic regimes for the results.

Rod Dreher comes back with the argument that the effective imposition by society, church and state of the no-sex-outside-marriage does not have to lead to atrocities like these. And since we have such a teaching still propagated and we no longer have this kind of horror in the West, he obviously has a point. But from the point of view of those who imposed this regime for much of the 20th Century in Ireland, this argument indicts itself. Today, without ruthless stigmatization of women who have sex outside marriage or of gay men and women, we have much higher levels of sex, illegitimacy, and perversion. From the point of view of the sexual sadists who imposed this regime, their worldview stands vindicated. See, they would argue. Sex is so primal a desire that the only way to get human beings to conform to the only valid Catholic norm, you have to brutalize gay people and women who have had sex before marriage. Or more to the point, you have to make illegitimate children, their mothers and gay people invisible. If their existence were confirmed, if it were even manifested in their own communities, then the entire edifice of Catholic sexual teaching would implode.

After all, isn’t that why Rod has pursued the Benedict option in our allegedly decadent society?

Without this kind of enforcement of sexual orthodoxy, our public square is riddled with examples of grotesque sin: gay people not only having sex but also marrying each other; young women exploring their sexuality with self-confidence and curiosity, protected by contraception; young men and women marrying later after many sexual partners; and an online sexual world where all kinds of options unknown even to Dante are instantly available. “See!” the ghosts of Tuam past would say. “These are the wages of sin. Our world was brutal and cruel and foul, but it prevented more sin than the current regime.” And in their understanding of sin, in which throwing hundreds of child’s bodies into a septic tank is a necessary evil but masturbating is wicked, they surely have a point.

Now do all regimes of theocratic sexual orthodoxy become this callous? Well, when you look at societies which are still like Ireland once was, where church and state were fused, you see much of the same horror: the dehumanization and subjugation of women, female genital mutilation, male genital mutilation, and the brutal murder of gay people. Does Rod not see a pattern here? And the entire fiction of a more virtuous past is only made possible by literally making its victims as invisible as those infant bodies in a septic tank. The countless gay lives of intense psychic pain, the innumerable heart-breaks, the forced separation of mothers and children, the brutalization of innocents, and the immiseration of people whose only crime was to experience their own bodies in ways unsanctioned by authority: these are all buried in order to retain the lie that this sexual ethic is the only virtuous one.

There are sane and good arguments to be had about the best form of sexual and emotional life as an ideal and as a reality. But the absolutist paradigm in which any sex outside marriage is anathema is such an impossible standard for most that it will fail if not enforced with the kind of brutality seen in Ireland in the 1940s or Iran in the 2010s. My contention is that the rigidity of this standard is inextricably tied up with cruelty. And that cruelty is far, far greater a sin, than surrendering to our deepest nature, hurting no one. That’s the lesson I get from Jesus’ words to the adulteress at the well. That’s the lesson I get from the Gospels as a whole. Love one another; and forgive one another. And these before everything else; mercy before everything else; love before anything else.

That septic tank is one massive rebuke to all of that, which no rationalizing can rescue.

(Photo: The High Cross in the town square of Tuam, County Galway, circa 1990. By RDImages/Epics/Getty Images.)

To be honest, I have not been able to stop thinking about the atrocity just unearthed in Ireland, where 800 children were consigned to neglect, malnutrition and disease in an effective death-camp run by the Catholic church in Ireland – then dumped into a septic tank as a mass grave. This foul concentration camp was maintained until 1961. This abuse and incomprehensible evil went on for decades. Many must have known about it; the secrecy of the mass grave is proof that those overseeing this neglect knew it was unconscionable but sought to conceal rather than expose it; successive generations of leadership in the school were complicit; the men and women who worked there were complicit; the Church authorities, specifically the priests in charge, were directly responsible for the deaths of 800 children.

Does any serial murderer come close to this level of evil? The repeated treatment of children as sub-human because they were born out of wedlock until close to 800 were lying in rows, like some excavation of a Khmer Rouge atrocity: is there any parallel to this in our times outside of gulags and concentration camps? And all occurring in a quiet, picturesque Galway town – like some horror movie.

I blame the crippling, toxic, near-insane fixation on sexual sin as the core ideology at work here. A view of sex that is riddled with shame and disgust, in which simple human nature must be so expelled and exterminated it requires a secret mass grave to keep the lie in place. Rod Dreher cavils that my inference that it is the sex-phobia that is at the root of this evil is “mostly wrong, wrong, wrong, though wrong in a way we have come to expect.” He thinks believing that no sexual activity can ever take place outside of a procreative, monogamous marital bond is a perfectly workable idea, if not taken to extremes:

It is certainly not the case that observing Christianity’s sexual teachings inevitably leads to atrocities like that committed by the fanatical Irish nuns, and more than the idea that Christianity’s strong warnings against the corruptions of wealth must be resisted lest they lead to lynch mobs burning the wealthy at the stake.

It is undeniably true that to treat sexual impurity as if it were the worst sin distorts the Gospel. But the Sullivan solution, to treat it as if it were no big deal not only is a flat-out denial of the truth proclaimed by the Christian faith, but leads to the opposite kind of fanaticism, this one from the pro-sex side. You may find the bones of that fanaticism’s victims in many cases where those who partook of bathhouse sex and lay buried, dead from AIDS.

Let me just offer Rod a Biblical verse in response: “By their fruit you will recognize them.”

Here’s what the ideology of sex-hatred has wrought in the Catholic Church: gay men were emotionally shut down and traumatized by their own nature in their adolescence and then persuaded or driven to become priests to conceal their sexual orientation, after which their sublimated, fucked-up and distorted sexual identities lead them to rape thousands and thousands of innocent boys and youths; young women who dared to explore their own sexuality in the absence of any “evil” contraception are wrested from their homes and lives, forced into effective labor camps, had their children brutally taken from them, and then allowed to die in a mass grave. At what point will the perpetrators of this insane sexual phobia come to terms with what it practically means in the lives of millions?

Think of the lives ruined for lack of simple mercy; think of the sheer psychic pain and utter desolation so many gay men and women have had to endure for millennia; think of the awful marriages and dreadful sex lives and terrible parenting that emerges from this attempt to deny core facts about human nature; think of the women turned into subhuman pariahs for daring to explore sexual pleasure and intimacy. You can make excuses and excuses, but at some point, given this level of atrocity and evil, you have to say: all of this is a grotesque distortion, a merciless imposition of an abstract ideology completely immune to life as it is actually lived. To give human beings an absolutely impossible goal – and then punish, torment, persecute, dehumanize and destroy them when they fail to live up to it is the definition of insanity.

Yes, Rod, sex is not that big a deal; it is not central to the core claims of Jesus; its pathological repression has wrought such incredible evil and perpetuated such unimaginable abuse it must be re-imagined and re-conceptualized if Christianity is to survive at all. And look, after all, at what this cruel ideology has done in Ireland. It has destroyed the Church in one of its previously strongest redoubts.

The neurotic suppression of sexual need and pleasure is not a virtue. It is a pathology that leads directly to vice – to the corpses of eight hundred infants in a septic tank and to the shattered souls and violated bodies of two hundred deaf boys in Milwaukee. If that does not prompt a reassessment, what would?

 

You may recall the kerfuffle recently when the UN Rapporteur on Torture tried to indict the Vatican for “crimes against humanity” because of the widespread scheme, orchestrated by the church hierarchy, to facilitate and cover up the mass rape and sexual abuse of children. Many argued that the very term “crime against humanity” was over the top, fueled by anti-Catholicism or secularism, and effectively undermined itself by its extreme language.

But what can possibly describe the following unless it is a crime against humanity?

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.

A mass grave for eight hundred children, buried with no dignity, no humanity, no trace of decency. And the mass grave may well have been facilitated by rampant, disgusting and callous neglect:

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?”

Special kinds of neglect and abuse were reserved for the Home Babies, as locals call them. Many in surrounding communities remember them. They remember how they were segregated to the fringes of classrooms, and how the local nuns accentuated the differences between them and the others. They remember how, as one local told the Irish Central, they were “usually gone by school age — either adopted or dead.” 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.”

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.

To my mind, these foul crimes against women and children, along with the brutal stigmatization of gay people as “objectively disordered”, remain a testament to how the insidious, neurotic and usually misogynist fixation on sex has distorted and destroyed Christianity in ways we are only now beginning to recover from. For what we see here is the consequence of elevating sexual sin above all others, of fixating on human sexuality as the chief source of evil in the world, and of a grotesquely distorted sense of moral priorities, where stigmatization of the sexual sinner vastly outweighs even something as basic as care for an innocent child.

It seems to me that we have to move past the church’s current doctrines on sex if we are to fully seek justice for the victims of this pathology and if we are to ensure that never again is a phrase that actually means something. It is not enough to ask for a change in governance (and even that has been hard); what this evil signifies is the need to root out this pernicious obsession with sexual sin. This pathology – perpetuated by Benedict and the sex-phobic theocons – perpetuates the mindset that led to this barbarism. The nuns – and yes, this was abuse practised by women as well as men – did not ever seem to realize that Jesus himself was conceived, to all intents and purposes, out of wedlock – in a manner that may well have led his contemporaries to stigmatize him as illegitimate as well. They did not for a moment internalize Jesus’ emphatic insistence on the holiness of children as those most likely to enter the kingdom of Heaven. No, these precious images of God were consigned, after years of abuse and neglect, to unmarked early graves in a septic tank.

That is not a sign of a church gone astray. It’s a sign of a church given over to evil. A church that leaves young children to die of malnutrition and then dumps hundreds of them into a mass grave is not a church. It’s an evil institution that robs the word “church” of any meaning, and twists the Gospels into their direct opposite.

We failed these children in their short lifetimes. Never, ever forget them if we are to have a chance at restoring a Christianity worthy of Jesus.