Growing up, there was one joke my sister and I used to always repeat to one another:
“What’s the fastest town in Ireland?
It was a joke that was about as witty as “why did the chicken cross the road” but we thought this funny sounding town was hilarious at the time. However in recent years the small town of Tuam in Co. Galway has begun to take on a darker meaning.
Last week it was confirmed that “a significant number” of human remains had been discovered on the grounds of the former Mother and Baby Home run by the Bon Secours Sisters during the years 1925-1960. As unsettling as this discovery was, it was not surprising.
Mother and Baby Homes and The Magdalene Laundries were notorious Catholic Institutes where young Irish women were sent to if they became pregnant outside of marriage so they could give birth in secret. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, an Institute that has always been obsessed with controlling female sexuality, the worst sin a woman could commit was having sex outside of marriage. This was an ideology that became ingrained in the consciousness of deeply Catholic Ireland. These women and young teenage girls, or “fallen women”, would have their children in these Homes to preserve their family’s reputation in their parish.
Women were often expected to spend years in these homes, as a form of repayment to the Church for taking them in, if their families could not afford to pay for their release. Today this forced labour would be described as slavery. Their children, conceived by ‘sin’, were illegitimate and therefore not allowed to be baptised. In the eyes of the Church, they were not children of God.
The healthy children were sold to wealthy families in the US, without their mother’s consent, with the nuns pocketing all the money for themselves. These were closed adoptions which the nuns did not properly document, most likely to protect themselves. Most mothers were not able to retrace their children when they left the Homes. Yet these children were still the lucky ones. Infant mortality was extremely high in these Homes, and children often died from preventable illnesses, such as the flu, diarrhoea and even ear infections.
The remains discovered in Tuam, were found in a septic tank and are believed to be the remains of some the 796 children who died while in the care of this Home (all their names are listed here). It is estimated that the total number of infants who died across Ireland in such Homes is around 6,000-8,000.
What these nuns did was murder. At the same time as Hitler’s regime was promoting Jews as sub-human the Church was doing the same thing to illegitimate children. While what happened in these homes was nowhere near the scale of the Holocaust it was still genocide.
20th Century Ireland was dominated by a Church-State coalition. The abuses conducted by the Church during this period, from emotional to physical to sexual, is only beginning to come to light. The nuns kept women as slaves, tortured them, whipped them and sold their children. They let doctors come in and use illegitimate children to trial test vaccines. The priests regularly hit young boys with canes and whips, they raped them and abused them in many, many ways. If these actions had been carried out by a government the leaders would be sitting in the International Criminal Court facing charges of crimes against humanity. The Church remains silent and untouched. If they are sorry, they are only sorry they got caught.
The Church to this day has a staunch pro-life stance. They have actively tried to prevent abortion bills from being passed, even one’s that will only terminate the pregnancy if the woman’s life is at risk (such as Ireland’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013). They have made it perfectly clear that they view women as nothing more than a reproductive system, and we should fulfil our duties at all costs, including the cost of our life. But the Church has also proven time and time again that only certain lives matter to them.
They are not pro-life at all. They are simply anti-choice.
When the news first broke I was immediately compelled to write about it. But I made myself wait a few days because I wanted to avoid writing a blog post that might be perceived as an attack against the Catholic Church. I had always been taught to respect this Church. But what happened in Tuam does not upset me. It doesn’t even anger me. It disgusts me. I am utterly repulsed and I decided I am no longer going to hold back because this is an Institution that does not deserve respect. I will, of course, always respect a person’s right to religion. I will respect whichever of the thousands of god’s that have existed for mankind you choose to believe in. I will respect how you choose to dress, what you choose to eat and your religious holidays. But I will not respect evil.
The Church always knew these abuses were happening. Those who weren’t actively participating were actively helping to cover it up. This will not be the last scandal to be revealed about the Church. I just wonder how many more scandals it will take for the Church to finally face the repercussions they deserve.
Even now, Catholic organisations have dismissed the latest scandal as a “hoax”. They claim the remains found are from the Irish Famine a century beforehand and it’s just a coincidence that they were found on the grounds of a former Mother and Baby Home. But science (such as carbon dating) and facts, two things the Church don’t really rely upon, tell a different story.
This week I am ashamed to be Irish.
I am disgusted at the Church I was baptised into.
As a country we now mourn 796 children. Most of whom were not allowed to live for more than 796 days.