Suffer the Little Children: Church Cruelty in Ireland

The New York Times

MARCH 30, 2017

TUAM, Ireland — Last year, during the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising that led to Irish independence, the writer Colm Toibin pointed to the fatal mistake the British made when putting down the rebellion. It was not just the swift execution of the movement’s leaders, which historians often point to as a defining moment, but the burial of their bodies in quicklime without coffins.

“Anyone Irish will understand that whatever you do, don’t do that,” he said, adding that it “mattered in Ireland in a way that it might not have mattered in some other country.”

We have a thing about respecting the dead here, you see, drummed into us in part by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, Ireland’s self-appointed moral authority. It follows, then, that the discovery of the remains of a number of children up to age 3, in what may have been the sewage tanks of a former home for unwed mothers run by Catholic nuns, should be another “quicklime” moment. Watching this scandal unfold here, though, it’s sadly apparent that the Irish state is not ready to free society from the church’s yoke just yet.

The investigation into suspected abuses in the network of Ireland’s mother and baby homes is only beginning, but some pertinent facts are already known. While death certificates exist for at least 796 children who died in the home in Tuam, in the west of Ireland, in its years of operation from 1925 to 1961, burial records have been found for only two of them. The religious order that ran the home, the Sisters of Bon Secours, received government funding for the children in its care, and death rates were described in an official report as “undesirably high.” (On average, a child died in the home every two weeks.)

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