Your Brain: The Final Frontier

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Nuns Not to be Thrown Under the Bus Quite Yet

Bodies of 800 babies, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers – by Terrence McCoy (Washington Post June 3, 2014) with commentary by Bob Sullivan.

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. We should all exercise great caution in what will be a rush to condemn nuns and others who are either long gone or are in their elderly years. While the general details seem shocking and our nature is to accuse, condemn and criticize, some facts in this article don’t match up at all. First, the source for the information is a woman who likely has hopes of writing a book about it and the “reporter” certainly hopes to make a big splash with breaking news. Where there is money to be made, publicity is welcome. Conclusions drawn before an investigation is properly conducted are often exaggerated, misplaced and/or completely wrong. But people who are trying to sell books, newspapers and advertising space don’t really care about the truth anymore. They’d prefer to have the money and notoriety now and let all the messy facts get sorted out after they have the money in the bank.

I put the word reporter in quotes to emphasize the fact that I’m concerned that Mr. McCoy’s motives are much closer to telling a story than actually reporting news. A journalist will report facts, backup that reporting with sources and research and avoid the urge to infuse bias into his or her writing. Unfortunately, Mr. McCoy appears to go for stories that allow him to persuade his readers to think the way he wants them to think. When a “reporter” starts telling stories, he or she can fudge a little on the facts as well as the style of writing. When that happens, they are nothing more than a lobbyist. Mr. McCoy describes Pope Francis as tolerant when he writes about the Pope’s views on the celibate priesthood. He reported that the Pope was apparently influenced by a letter he received by a group of priests’ girlfriends who pleaded that the Pope lift the restriction of priestly celibacy so these women could start a relationship with a priest they love. Riiigggghhhhtttt. His other articles about the Catholic Church, social issues and morality are indicative of a person who wants to lead people to a conclusion instead of simply reporting facts so that the reader can form his or her own opinion. So back to the Washington Post article…

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. So the women were required to pay for their room and board? How shocking! Was this some sort of slavery? Well, not really. Maybe they were just expected to pay what they could afford and maybe those who could not afford anything were not charged anything for the house over their head and the food they consumed. Such is the policy of the Bon Secours. After all, the rest of Ireland was apparently unwilling to help,right? And was this just Ireland or was this mentality similar in other parts of the world before the 1960’s? I suggest it was. Public disapproval of illegitimate pregnancy was common in the United States prior to the 1960’s. Orphanages were not uncommon in the U.S. and Europe at that time either. Some of their children were not so fortunate. It appears as such, but what was the cause of their misfortune? Was it mistreatment by nuns or was it something else, such as diseases and mortality common to the lower class of Ireland at the time? Maybe we should wait for the investigation to be complete before we start condemning people.

More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed — where a housing development and children’s playground now stands Oh, a playground. What a mental image that creates. Modern Irish children dancing on the graves of these other children. It seems like our “reporter” is being a little fantastical with us, doesn’t it? — 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. Can we wait for a completed investigation at least? What was the practice of the times? We live in a day and age when we are using the bodies of aborted babies to create the energy to run our computers and televisions. As I understand it, some American abortion clinics tell mothers to flush their babies down the toilet at the conclusion of their abortion. Some abortionists keep aborted babies in jars or freezers for weeks, months or years in order to avoid the cost of disposing of “medical waste” (Gosnell was one such monster). I wonder what the Irish culture did with stillborn babies or infants who died after birth in the 1930’s. Let’s see what an investigation tells us and what some people can tell us about the Irish culture 50-70 years ago.

“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 need to congradulate McCoy for successfully writing a paragraph that I cannot criticize as biased, vague or misleading. Unless of course, the bones are not children who died in the home.

The grim findings, which are being investigated by police, provide a glimpse into a particularly dark time for unmarried pregnant women in Ireland, where societal and religious mores stigmatized them. Again, this wasn’t just Ireland. American and European society handled the inconvenience of illegitimate pregnancy with the same mentality. Without means to support themselves, women by the hundreds wound up at the Home. “When daughters became pregnant, they were ostracized completely,” Corless said. “Families would be afraid of neighbors finding out, because to get pregnant out of marriage was the worst thing on Earth. It was the worst crime a woman could commit, even though a lot of the time it had been because of a rape.” Corless’ conclusions about the causes for the pregnancies seems vague and likely lacks a basis in fact. However, even if the women were there because of rape, that isn’t something to criticize the nuns with. The nuns ran the home when nobody else in Ireland was apparently willing to take the women in. This seems like a case of mentioning a bad fact so that the reader attributes the evil to the Bon Secours.

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. What were the causes of infant mortality in the general Irish population at the time? What were the causes of death in the poorest of the poor Irish population at the time? I’m predicting children and adults both suffered death from measles, TB, pneumonia and other diseases as well.

“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?” I don’t know…, maybe you could investigate the financial capability of the home to find that out. I suspect you would find that the nuns operated the place on a shoestring and depended on the local community for 100% of their support. I’m guessing that the nuns made unbelievable personal sacrifices to try and help the women who were outcasts in the Irish culture.

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.” This “special” kind of neglect and abuse is not that of the nuns that ran the home though. The “reporter” seems to assess guilt by association with the rest of the Irish culture and educational system. And to say the kids were either dead or adopted by the time they reached school age is very vague. It seems like this paragraph is the product of sloppy reporting.

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.” The photos with the article do not depict such conditions in the children, but it certainly is possible that everyone at the home suffered for lack of food at times if the Irish people were not willing to support them.

Corless has a vivid recollection of the Home Babies. “If you acted up in class, some nuns would threaten to seat you next to the Home Babies,” she said. She said she recalled one instance in which an older schoolgirl wrapped a tiny stone in a bright candy wrapper and gave it to a Home Baby as a gift. Again, this is a “recollection” from Corless’ school experience, not of the home itself. It is a convenient co-mingling of circumstances to suggest that the home was some sort of euthanasia clinic.

“When the child opened it, she saw she’d been fooled,” Corless told Irish Central. “Of course, I copied her later and I tried to play the joke on another little Home girl. I thought it was funny at the time…. Years after, I asked myself what did I do to that poor little girl that never saw a sweet? That has stuck with me all my life. A part of me wants to make up to them.” You can’t “make up to them” by jumping to conclusions about the nuns who may have been the only loving and caring people that these children ever knew.

She said she first started investigating the Home, which most locals wanted to “forget,” when she started working on a local annual historical journal. She heard there was a little graveyard near what had been the Home, and that piqued her curiosity. How many children were there? How many is a great question to ask as it appears that there were a lot of mothers there (the “reporter” mentions thousands) and maybe the numbers will show that the mortality rate was low, consistent or high, compared to the lower class of Ireland during the time.

So she requested the records through the local registration house to find out. The attendant “came back a couple of weeks later and said the number was staggering, just hundreds and hundreds, that it was nearly 800 dead children,” Corless said. The home was open for 36 years and recorded 800 children in the cemetery. That gives us an average of about 2.3 deaths per week as mentioned earlier by Corless. If the mass grave holds another 800 bodies, that would put the number at about 5 deaths per week. The fact that the bodies in the mass grave were not recorded indicates that maybe they were stillborn. The investigation may help shed a lot of light on this.

Once, in 1995, Corless said in the phone interview, several boys had stumbled across the mass grave, which lay beneath a cracked piece of concrete: “The boys told me it had been filled to the brim with human skulls and bones. They said even to this day they still have nightmares of finding the bodies.” I’m not sure what this adds to the article. It appears that the goal of the article is to make us believe that the nuns were evil. I suppose these boys’ nightmares help paint the nuns as evil as long as you are persuaded that you too should conclude that the nuns caused the babies to suffer and die in the first place. But you would be jumping to conclusions if you think the nuns caused babies to suffer and die since there has been no investigation yet.

Locals suspect that the number of bodies in the mass grave, which will likely soon be excavated, may be even higher than 800. “God knows who else is in the grave,” one anonymous source told the Daily Mail. “It’s been lying there for years, and no one knows the full extent of the total of bodies down there.” Nobody knows yet. But hopefully the investigation will tell us. Let’s recap what we do know at this point:

1. Irish authorities are investigating what appears to be a mass grave.

What we actually know right now doesn’t sell any books, attract many advertisers or even sell many newspapers does it? The one thing it does do is create a lot of speculation, exaggeration and finger-pointing. Let’s just all calm down and see what the truth really is.

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