Catholicism’s Crimes Against Humanity


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.