I was drawn to a story this morning posted in the Irish Times regarding the horrific tale of the almost 800 infant/child skeletons found in the septic tank at a Mother and Child Home (as they are known in Ireland - actually homes for unwed mothers and "illegitimate" children) by a researcher doing genealogy a while back.
It seems that many of the stories which have been spread from the original article misinterpreted some of the facts. The linked to article sets us straight. Most of the infants and children buried at the Tuan home were buried in a cemetery within the grounds of the home, not IN the septic tank. According to an interview of one of the boys who originally found the tank and it's occupants, there were no more than perhaps twenty bodies within the tank itself.
There are a couple of implications of this correction, but rest assured, lessening of the fault of the Roman Catholic Church in the existence and the terrible conditions in these homes is not one of them!
It does lessen the horror somewhat to know that most of the children who died there were at least accorded some modicum of decency in death, if not in life. It increases the chances that conditions in most of the other homes may be found to be no worse and perhaps even a bit better.
On the other hand, the environment inculcated by the Church allowed an atmosphere to develop which allowed at least one and perhaps a small cabal of abusers to cause these children - as few as five or as many as twenty - to be disposed of in a septic tank seperate and apart from the normal burial procedures at that one home. What abuse and neglect caused these deaths, we may never know, but still, the fault lies with the Institution which allowed the abuse to occur and continue as long as it did.
There is no doubt that any story is at once too simple and also often incorrectly reported at first glance. This one is not an exception. I am sure that even in these institutions of callousness and indifference, there were individuals who did their best to mitigate the cruelty and intolerance showed by the institution and its rules towards a badly mistreated underclass. Even amidst the horrors of the Holocaust, there were stories of the occasional kindness by even the worst of the criminals who staffed the camps. It is and has always been possible for good people to be trapped by circumstances in a terrible place and time where their ability to mitigate the damage is limited to individual kindnesses on an occasional basis. I am sure, once the story of these homes is finally told, we will hear of people who were kind, even heroic in their attempts to fight the indifference and the horrors they were faced with in an institution whose purpose was the denigration and enslavement of an underclass of officially detested women and their children. People will, after all, be people, and even in terrible circumstances, the basic goodness of mankind will often show itself.
But let's make no mistake. The basic reasons these homes existed was to warehouse and make disappear the detritus of a society which considered them to be a sinful and evil mistake. A society which was outlined in my post on my Facebook page yesterday describing the social institutions built by the Roman Catholic Church within Irish society in the first half of the twentieth century.
There is and can be no lessening of the fault and the guilt of that institution by the revelation of this article that some have misinterpreted the story of the children's' burials in the Tuan Home. This story must be and more than likely will be investigated and eventually told in all of its horror, frightful detail and the occasional lighthearted story of heroism or courage in the face of adversity.
It will be at once more complex and nuanced than we have seen at first glance, and yet, we must not lose sight of the basic lesson we should take away from it.
The entire edifice of Irish society which enabled these homes to exist - which in fact required them to be built - is the result of the Roman Catholic Church and the teachings and dogma of that institution resulting from the interpretation of Christian Scripture by the Church Hierarchy of the day. Teachings and interpretations which continue virtually unchanged to this very day and age, and which would, if that institution had its way, require the very same kinds of homes to continue to exist into the future.
Interpretations which could, at any time, be re-examined and reinterpreted to end that terrible intolerance. If the teachings and dogma of that bygone age continue, it is by the willing and intentional decisions made by current Church Fathers (read: Pope and Cardinals) to continue the horror.
They have a choice, and it seems they've already made it.