Mass graves in Ireland: A long history of Church abuse

  • Infants of teenage girls killed in Church-owned homes;
  • Several cases of child sexual abuses still prevails;
  • Over 800 infants abandoned in sewage tank;

When infant remains were found in a former home for unwed mothers last month, it didn’t come as a surprise to everyone.

The Catholic Church has faced a series of scandal in recent years [Al Jazeera]
At the time when human remains were found in a septic tank in Tuam, in wester Ireland, February 2016, it came as no absolute surprise to onlookers.

The exhumation of the site which was a former home for unmarried mothers was due to government’s orders to investigate claims of abuse by religious orders. The excavation unveiled an underground deposit where human remains were uncovered.

At the home run by the Catholic Church affiliated Bons Secours, local historian Catherine Corless had earlier discovered details of a mass grave there, which according to her some 800 infants born to unmarried women had been unofficially buried in an abandoned sewage tank.

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However, Bons Secours’ PR representative Terry Prone in 2014 sent an email to filmmaker Saskia Weber dissuading concerns for an investigation into the site, saying: “If you come here, you’ll find no mass grave, no evidence that children were ever so buried, and a local police force casting their eyes to heaven and saying ‘Yeah, a few bones were found’ – but this was an area where famine victims were buried. So?”

‘My baby was taken from me’

For the people of Ireland, the shocking findings only invoked deeply entrenched memories of the country’s treatment of single mothers who rejected the strict cultural and social norms of a deeply conservative society at the time.

After decades when the nuns had shut down the home in Tuam back in 1961, Louise Gallagher was there again in one of Ireland’s last Mother and Baby Homes in 1988.

“When I heard about Tuam. I didn’t feel right. I felt awful but I couldn’t explain it,” the 44-year-old says. “Younger women like me didn’t have it as bad as the older ones, we didn’t have to work for years in the laundries, so you feel guilty for being upset.”

“But really, I was never right after my baby was taken from me. It’s like being in a permanent state of grief.”

Louise discovered that she was pregnant when she was just 16-years-old living in rural Ireland at the time. However, being a single mom attracted strong stigma propagated by the Catholic Church and encouraged by the society at large.

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Louise was evidently sent to one Mother and Baby home run by nuns in Dunboyne town, Meath Country.

“It was arranged between my mother, the local doctor and Cura – a Catholic crisis pregnancy organisation,” she says.

“I spent two months there, the place was full of girls when I arrived. My mother said I would have to sleep on the floor if there was no bed for me.”

“I never had a choice, I felt powerless and that I should be grateful.”

Mass graves

The Mother and Baby homes in Ireland where residential apartment for unmarried pregnant women operated by the Church and funded by the state. Whenever the community shunned parents’ pregnant unmarried daughters, they turned them in to the Mother and Baby homes.

The years that witnessed most of the brutality spanned almost a century – thousands of children died in the Mothers and Baby homes due to starvation, malnutrition and improper care. The babies were thrown into mass graves on properties owned by the Catholic Church.

Plenty women registered as minors and were forced to give up their children for adoption, signing papers under duress in the presence of watchful nuns and social workers.

“They used us to make money,” says Louise. “We used to pack cards for the nuns in the home, we weren’t forced to but you were made to feel grateful even when they took our babies.”

Pope Francis sits with children of the Anak-Tnk Foundation, founded in 1998 by a Jesuit priest, which helps homeless children and those living in the slums, in Manila’s Intramuros district after celebrating Mass at the nearby Manila Cathedral, in Manila, Philippines, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. Some 300 children at a Manila center for street kids got the surprise of their lives on Friday when Pope Francis showed up at their door. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, Pool)

“They were also getting money from the government to ‘deal with’ us. One wealthy girl I shared a room with told me her parents were giving a donation to the nuns and the couples that got our babies also gave donations to the Orders.”

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“We were brought from the home into Holles Street Hospital, in Dublin, for maternity care and then the Catholic Protection and Rescue Services of Ireland who managed our forced adoptions. Everyone was taking their cut,” she adds.

Irrespective of the findings in Tuam, the religious Orders in Ireland have failed to contribute to redress schemes for women whose children died or were adopted out of the Mothers and Baby homes.

Compensation

The Minister for Health Simon Harri, has demanded a hard approach to the Orders, since it has failed to compensate the victims the church had abused in Ireland.

So far, the religious Orders – who are supposed to pay for half the scheme – have contributed €192 million ($207m) of the €1.5 billion ($1.6bn) required to compensate those affected.

An independent member of parliament, Clare Daly, says the schemes are poorly constructed and makes it possible for both the Church and state to avoid taking responsibility.

“Obviously the original deal was a bad one for the Irish taxpayer and the survivors of abuse, and a good one for the religious Orders who got off very lightly. At this stage huge pressure should be put on the religious organisations to fulfil their original commitments. While it seems that they have no legal obligation they certainly have a moral one,” she says.

More so, they refuse to fully compensate the women sent to the Mother and Baby homes, the religious Orders have been criticised for silencing those who say they were abused in Church-run, state funded industrial schools for orphans and children of unmarried parents.

Victims of Church abuse 

Mr. Tom Wall from the small town of Glin, a County Limerick, was sent to an industrial school run by the Christian Brothers, after a judge signed a document giving the Church custody of him. Tom stayed there from 1952 until he turned 16-year-old in 1965.

At the time, Tom was sexually harassed and routinely beaten. Tom even wrote a book about his time in Glin, which is now involved in a legal battle with the Christian Brothers, who he claims are deliberately trying to hide the degree of abuse faced by children under the auspices of the Church.

“When the Christian Brothers were leaving Glin in 1973, I was ordered by the Superior Brother Murry to burn all the documents that he gave me, but was told that I could keep any that I particularly wanted,” he recalls.

“As I was looking for my own file I held back some of the documents that I had been told to burn and I put them in the attic of a house in Glin. In 2015, I donated this collection to the University of Limerick.”

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Being the last boy sent to the industrial school, Tom says his battle with the Order which had abused him haven’t yet ended.

The Christian Brothers are presently affirming property rights over the document and letters sent to the boys family members who tried to contact them. Claims from the Order that the documents are the property of the Church and don’t belong in the university archives.

“I don’t understand how the Christian Brothers who were found guilty of serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children that were under state care in the industrial schools can now claim to own the last remaining documents recording the lives of these boys, many of whom they abused,” the 67-year-old says.

“The state should act on the recommendations and requests that survivor groups have been communicating for years now, to include everyone in the investigation, to hand over all the files held by the relevant institutions and carry out a full audit of those files,” she says.

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Requests sent to the European Province of the Congregation of Christian Brothers yielded no response as they did not comment neither was there response as at the time of this content was published.

Legal battles

While Ireland struggles with latest in its long list of Church scandals, those sent to Catholic institutions remain at the coalface of expensive legal battles against a Church that shows little or no sign of remorse and a state like Ireland frequently criticized by the United Nations for failing to provide sufficient redress.

A human rights lawyer based in the Irish capital Dublin, Wendy Lyon, represents survivors of institutional abuse. She alleges that Ireland’s statute of limitations and ex gratia tags – which absolves the state of responsibility – are setbacks to justice for survivors of these institutions.

“In Ireland, the statute of limitations is absolute. Unlike other countries this means there’s no provision for a court to waive the statute of limitations in the interest of justice. Then, every redress scheme we are presented with is progressively worse, they are still talking about ex gratia schemes,” she says.

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“Currently the state is obstructing women from access to these inadequate schemes. Now we have two cases in the court for women locked out of schemes, for not fitting their criteria. The state is going to great lengths to keep them out of financial redress, which is strange when you consider how much they pay in legal costs,” she says.

Louise says that she continues to be haunted by the unrepentant attitude of the Church.

“I firmly put the blame on the Church,” she says. “The society enabled it and funded it but they guided the values at the time. I’ve spent my whole life feeling inferior because of them, since I was 16, I just don’t know what it is like to feel normal. I still feel so much shame.”

 

 

 

 

Credits: Al Jazeera, Stingged.com

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